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World's Fair by E. L. Doctorow (Random House: $17.95; 288 pp.)

Richard Eder

November 24, 1985|RICHARD EDER

School, where Edgar does well both socially and in his work, is a kind of flowering. Portents drift in. A runaway car smashes a pedestrian through the school fence, killing her. One afternoon, the German zeppelin Hindenburg passes overhead, a ship of dreams and, as the pride of Nazi Germany, of menace. An hour or two later, it will explode and burn in Lakeville, N. J.

Each of these things engages Edgar's sensibility, luring it gradually out of fortified childhood. He makes friends with Meg, whose mother, a burlesque dancer, is everything that Edgar's family detests. She and Meg, whom Edgar is half in love with, make something approaching a second home for him.

And they take him to the World's Fair where Meg's mother has a job as a striptease swimmer. This exuberant vision of the half-possible, half-impossible future, set in Queens, most prosaic of New York boroughs and home of thousands of families like the Altschulers, becomes for Edgar and for us an utterly convincing emblem of his transplanting. The following year, having won his essay prize, he will affirm the emblem by treating his family to a Fair visit: the provider instead of the provided-for.

Doctorow, leading Edgar into the world on his own shaky legs, has renewed an old theme in his quite individual way. His Daedalus lacks wings, but manages perfectly well on the subway.

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