A Review, A Winner, And A Storm

I’ve been wanting to read something by Steven Millhauser ever since seeing the film The Illusioninst which was one of my favorite films that I saw last year. Many people were critics, but I was a fan. The movie was based on Millhauser’s short story of the same name and I knew that I’d enjoy his work after seeing it. So I’ve finally gotten around to reading something of his with his Pulitzer prize winning novel, Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer.

I want to get my hands on everything Millhauser after reading this book. It required a bit of suspension of disbelief, but it was obvious that it required that and that he didn’t expect you to accept everything as reality. Martin Dressler is a novel that portrays itself as extremely factual, almost biography-like, but is dream-like at the same time with hints of the fantastic darkly buried in the corners. It was genius, really.

The book opens with Martin as a very young boy working in his father’s cigar shop in New York around 1870. It’s a normal cigar shop, but Martin wants it to be bigger and better and has the idea to create a cigar tree that will attract customers, so his father lets him. This is just the beginning of the hint of a creative mind that is bigger than the city of New York itself. Martin soon gets the idea to start delivering cigars to a nearby hotel to increase sales. After a few months of doing so, he’s offered a bellboy’s job at the hotel, leaving his schooling behind for a working life split between the cigar shop and the hotel. He finds the hotel life to be extraordinary and sees endless possibilities in what a hotel could be as he works his way up the chain of command, meeting a wide array of enchanting personas along the way including a mother and her two alluring daughters whom he forms a unique bond with.

What follows from here I won’t give away, for it’s an amazing story of invention that took my mind for a ride. In the last 100 pages of the novel, we see Martin’s lifelong dreams and visualizations finally come to fruition, but we also see the hunger for more, more more. For it never being enough. And while “the sky is the limit” can be a good thing when it comes to an imagination, it can also be a torturous and grueling thing, a thing that unravels us as there’s no limit to reach.

What impressed me more than anything about Millhauser’s novel was his amazing descriptive ability. He sets a mood like no other author I’ve read and creates a fantastic atmosphere. I could’ve imagined myself in any of the locations that he described. I easily saw myself sitting in the lobby of a beautiful 19th century hotel in Manhattan, eating lunch on a patio outside of a cafe on Broadway, walking through a night-time labyrinth and coming across a boat on a lake that would take me to a tea room in the middle of the lake. He paints his scenes in colors of browns and yellows and reds, sepia tones that are just perfect to the time period that he writes in and I just can’t wait to read more of his work.

So we also have a winner to announce! You might remember that I did a review of J. Scott Savage’s Farworld and in that review mentioned that Savage is giving away a copy of his book! I also did an interview with him if you’re interested in reading that here. The winner of the ARC is Nicola! Nicola, if you want to send me your address at chrisa511(at)gmail(dot)com, I’ll forward it to Mr. Savage and have the book shipped to you. Congrats!

Finally, I’m enjoying Tropical Depression Fay today. I actually enjoy tropical weather believe it or not as long as it’s not a hurricane. Especially after Katrina. Ever since I was a little kid I’ve been enthralled with weather and I’ve always loved the rain and the wind. It makes for perfect reading days. Today, Fay is sitting right over us and not causing too much trouble except for some guaranteed good reading weather. So I’m going to finish Bonk by Mary Roach I think. I do feel for all of those people in Florida though…they got some horrible rainfall totals and I know that some of them had to have had their homes flooded. My heart goes out to them. It’s no fun.

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4 Responses

  1. This is SO going to be one of my next reads for the Pulitzer Project. It sounds like such an amazing book. Thanks for bringing it to my attention, Chris. It was one of those books on the list that I knew nothing about, and so I was in no rush to read it. Well, I am now!

    Congrats to Nicola! And enjoy the reading weather…I’m glad Fay isn’t causing too much trouble where you are.

  2. Oh , I love very imaginative books. Is it kind of like magical realism with no holds barred? I like it when an author just lets his imagination fly. -C

  3. This does sound like a very cool book thanks for the review. I didn’t enjoy The Illusionist that much but I think it was because I watched it not long after the brilliant Prestige which is quite similar. I might give it another watch though now some time has passed.

  4. Nymeth, I hadn’t heard of it either…I just wanted to read something by him after seeing the Illusionist and just picked this one up by chance and it ended up being great! Hope you enjoy it when you get around to it.

    Carole, It does have quite a bit of a feel of magical realism towards the end of the novel. Not so much in the beginning but it takes a turn in the last 100 pages or so that give it that feel. He definitely let his imagination fly with this one.

    Rhinoa, It was a cool book. You see, I liked both the Prestige and The Illusionist, but it’s strange that both movies came out around the same time because they were so similar. This book actually reminded me quite a bit of The Prestige as well which was really odd! The main character reminded me so much of Bowie’s character at times.

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