March 13, 2000 12:00 PM

by E.L. Doctorow

Everett, the narrator of this inventive new novel from E.L. Doctorow (Ragtime, World’s Fair, Billy Bathgate), has a lot on his mind. As he wanders through Manhattan, his thoughts range from theology to particle physics, from Nazi evil to the consolations of religion, from the meaning of the Bible to his own affair with a married woman. Soon his thinking crystallizes around a more concrete mystery: A crucifix stolen from a downtown church inexplicably turns up on the roof of an uptown synagogue.

With its multiple subplots, voices and forms (song lyrics, notebook jottings, meditations, interviews, dialogues), City of God puts great faith in the intelligence and patience of its readers, some of whom may feel overwhelmed by the novel’s convoluted structure. But those who rise to the challenge will find themselves admiring Doctorow’s ambition and the seriousness of his subject. Which is: how to live a spiritual life in a city that is “getting weirder by the minute” and a world scarred forever by the horrors of the Holocaust. (Random House, $25)

Bottom Line: Challenging, rewarding novel about spirituality and survival

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