Finished the novel today. I burned through the last hundred pages or so, in order to pass it on to my family. A bit anticlimactic, this last part. Or maybe I just read through it too quickly.
It's interesting to me how often the last part of the novel is dominated by larger than life historical personages -- Lincoln, Grant, Lee, Johnston. It almost seems unfair how they tend to squeeze out the characters that have, until now, been the focus of the novel. I didn't have any particular desire to see Lincoln directly involved, but I do wonder if maybe Doctorow didn't find it impossible to resist the urge to draw in the best-known historical figure of the era.
I feel a little let down by the climax to the Arly thread of the novel. I feel like the complexities of his character sort of fell to the wayside, in part, perhaps, because we see him increasingly from Calvin Harper's point of view. As such, Arly is reduced to the crazy guy who thinks it's his mission to kill Sherman. Not that I think Doctorow should feel any obligation to dignify a fanatic, but it certainly would have been more compelling to get a fuller picture of the man.
It also speaks to the sorry state of my knowledge of the historical events that I didn't know about the attempt on Sherman's life. I should probably do some non-fiction reading on the subject.
I think there might have still been some story worth telling in the Pearl's self-imposed obligation to deliver Lt. Clarke's letter to his family. But I suppose a good author knows where the story he's telling ends.