Monday, January 27, 2014

Review: "Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer" by Steven Millhauser

I had heard of Steven Millhauser quite a bit ago, and was struck by how, despite winning a prize as prominent as the Pulitzer, he was not a bigger name than he is. Even after the win, he was still relegated to being a cult author, and the recognition that comes with winning that award did not follow him. Since my good friend Chad is did his dissertation on him, I decided to read that prize winning novel Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer, and I can see why it won such an award. It is a singular story with a great arc and a great lesson to convey that presents something a little meatier than simply showing the evils of capitalism. But I didn’t feel it did much more than that, leaving out a few key elements that would make the story more than just a cautionary tale. The eponymous Martin of the title begins his life as clerk at his father’s cigar shop, and as he grows up in New York in the late 1800’s, he moves up in the world in big ways. He gets a job as a bellboy, and that leads to a managerial position, which leads to him opening up his own hotel, and finally opening the Grand Cosmo, his life work, which ends up costing him the success he has accumulated. In this book, success is like a drug, and Martin is so driven to succeed, he leaves a trail of dissatisfied humans in his wake, most notable are his relationship with his wife Emmeline and her sister Caroline, which is almost like he married two people. But this singular drive makes everyone else in the book seem paper-thin. Martin is the only real character, and all those in his life are bit players. If this book were half as long, I would have given it a much higher praise, but this is a very cool book that offers a unique perspective on success.

Rating: 4/5

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