Ragtime is a combination of early 1900 events woven together around a fictional family. This seems to be common in E.L. Doctorow's books.
The story opens in 1906 in New Rochelle, NY, at the home of an affluent American family. One lazy Sunday afternoon, the famous escape artist Harry Houdini swerves his car into a telephone pole outside their house. Almost magically, the line between fantasy & historical fact, between real & imaginary characters, disappears. Henry Ford, Emma Goldman, J.P. Morgan, Evelyn Nesbit, Sigmund Freud & Emiliano Zapata slip in & out of the tale, crossing paths with Doctorow's imagined family & other fictional characters, including an immigrant peddler & a ragtime musician from Harlem whose insistence on a point of justice drives him to revolutionary violence.
My thoughts: I like the historical events happening around a family, but I found the writing difficult to be engaged in. The sentences were short and "choppy" and in one paragraph nearly every sentence started with "He." I gave up and didn't finish the book.