Saturday, April 9, 2011

Martin Dressler, Steven Millhauser

Millhauser's book was an interesting read. I must admit, that I'm just generally fascinated by the amazing period of transition that was American at the end of the nineteenth century, which may explain my enthusiasm. Millhauser writes with such an eye for the details of Dressler's visions... but sadly not for his characters.

Indeed, the world of the hotels that Martin dreamed of were described to such a full extent, that the rest of New York City life felt abandoned. Martin's parents are left by the way side right off the bat, and I would have been intrigued by a father/son dynamic in this novel of achievement; so many of our other Pulitzer winners have allowed for wonderful reading experiences because of the dualities in old and new, and given that Millhauser supplies us with a business minded parent, it would have been interesting to see what Martin's father thought of The Grand Cosmo. Martin's motives are rarely examined, and aside from his determination and ambition, felt one dimensional.

Millhauser's novel was bereft of any real variety in characters. Harwinton and Arling, as well as the Vernon women don't really offer the diversity of characters that one would expect from NYC at the turn of the century; what about all the immigrants flooding the city, the business giants? I would have thought a Pulitzer winner would have had a much broader scope; Dressler isolated himself in his dream yes, but did the reader have to feel the limitations so keenly?

I'm slightly embarrassed that my problems with a novel made for the bulk of the review; I did enjoy the book, albeit not with my typical enthusiasm. I guess I wish more had been made of Martin's experience, a potential epic, and that's what frustrates me. It's a wonderful story... it just didn't have the surge of emotion to power the determination.

Martin Dressler, Steven Millhauser
ISBN: 0679781277 

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