John Dos Passos is sadly neglected today even though his massive trilogy "U.S.A." has a pretty good claim to one of the great American novels of the 20th century and recently inspired George Packer's "The Unwinding." This earlier novel, drawing on his experiences in World War I, should take its place alongside other classics of the era such as "A Farewell to Arms," "All Quiet on the Western Front" and Cummings's "The Enormous Room." The experimental style that would flourish in "U.S.A." is embryonic here, particularly in the use of snippets of songs and other languages (it's polyphonic!). We take for granted that all war novels are cynical about patriotism, government and the military, and this may be one of the first to present the military as a force designed to turn men into unthinking, killing machines ("Machines" is even the name of a section). The dark humor and pessimism about warfare would find their way into the three great American WW2 novels: "Slaughterhouse Five," "Catch-22" and "Gravity's Rainbow."
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