cover image A Moment in the Sun

A Moment in the Sun

John Sayles. McSweeney's, $29 (968p) ISBN 978-1-936365-18-0

Though known best as a filmmaker (Eight Men Out), Sayles is also an accomplished novelist (Union Dues), whose latest will stand among the finest work on his impressive r%C3%A9sum%C3%A9. Weighing in at nearly 1,000 pages, the behemoth recalls E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime, Pynchon's Against the Day, and Dos Passos's USA trilogy, tracking mostly unconnected characters whose collective stories create a vast, kaleidoscopic panorama of the turn of the last century. Hod Brackenridge is a miner who gets swindled in the Alaskan gold rush, is strong-armed into a boxing match, and ends up on the run after his opponent dies in the ring. Diosdado, son of a Spanish diplomat, turns against his country and the United States to fight for independence in the Philippines. The most emotionally connected story line involves the black American soldiers who breeze through fighting in Cuba but get stuck in a quagmire in the Philippines while their families back home in Wilmington, N.C., endure a campaign of murder and intimidation that forces an affluent and educated black family out of their home and into poverty in New York City. Naturally, there are cameos%E2%80%94Mark Twain, president McKinley%E2%80%94and period details aplenty that help alleviate the occasional slow patches%E2%80%94indeed, Hod's story line loses steam toward the end%E2%80%94but the flaws and muck of this big, rangy novel are part of what make it so wonderful. (May)