It's hard to evaluate historical fiction. When someone like E. L. Doctorow (January 6, 1931 to July 21, 2015) succeeds, as he mostly does, in making you feel you are in a different place, a different time, than you ever were before, the effect may mainly be that it is just "different" rather than an historically accurate glimpse of a foreign time. Doctorow exhibits however, a very rare gift in a writer. Most fiction we like because it is built on our fantasies.
Not a point his New York Times obituary made. Their summary:
The author of a dozen novels, three volumes of short fiction and a stage drama, as well as essays and commentary on literature and politics, Mr. Doctorow was widely lauded for the originality, versatility and audacity of his imagination.
Subtly subversive in his fiction — less so in his left-wing political writing — he consistently upended expectations with a cocktail of fiction and fact, remixed in book after book; with clever and substantive manipulations of popular genres like the Western and the detective story, and with his myriad storytelling strategies. Deploying, in different books, the unreliable narrator, the stream-of-consciousness narrator, the omniscient narrator and multiple narrators, Mr. Doctorow was one of contemporary fiction’s most restless experimenters.
World's Fair (1985) they remind us is lightly autobiographical. In this novel, the author describes a 1930's New York, of 5th floor walkups, where there is still a litter box in the bathroom though the cat fell out of the window. His first novel, Welcome to Hard Times: a Novel, (1960) shows his genius. He describes a dying woman, "and her sweet smile...full of hate and ... [it made him feel] "as if I had been swiped to the ground by the paw of a great cat."
Speaking of his inspirations,
Herman Melville, author of "Moby-Dick," [is] the novelist whose voice rang perpetually in Doctorow's mind, the writer who taught him, Doctorow said, about the "grubbiness and glory" of a writer's imagination.
And his novel, Andrew's Brain (2014) is described in his Times obituary:
His final novel, “Andrew’s Brain” (2014), was written as a confessional monologue by a brilliant and deluded cognitive scientist whose gift for dissembling is attributed to the nature of the mind and the impossibility of burrowing to the truth with the tools of thought and speech....
“Pretending is the brain’s work,” Andrew explains. “It’s what it does.”
Andrew’s Brain makes a nice book end to a life.