Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Heyday



I've been battling a bad case of the crud for the last several days, but the upside of not feeling well enough to do much of anything meant that I had plenty of time to read.

I'd thought it might take me weeks to get through Kurt Andersen's Heyday, but once started, I didn't want to stop. Andersen provides a detailed yet panoramic view of the year 1848. Revolutions are being staged in Europe, and after Englishman Ben Knowles finds himself an unwitting participant in the February 23 insurrection in Paris (he uses a taxidermied penguin as a makeshift weapon), he quits the family firm and books a passage to America, where he expects to find enough vulgarity and democracy to satisfy his young soul (before he leaves, he meets his father's neighbor, Charles Darwin, and promises to send barnacle samples back to him).

In New York, he becomes d’Artagnan to established threesome Timothy Skaggs, journalist, daguerreotypist and budding astronomer; Polly Lucking, freethinker, actress, and part-time prostitute (her customers know her by the names of Jane Austen heroines); and Polly's well-meaning but mentally-disturbed brother Duff, a Mexican War deserter who knows more than he should about explosives.

Polly quarrels with Ben the evening before an out-of-town acting gig, then finds her role recast when her other line of work is abruptly revealed. She heads west with her young protege Priscilla Christmas to live in one of many uptopian societies that have sprung up. Before long, the males follow, and their sights become fixed on the California gold rush.

Great sprawly fun. Kind of a cross between Ragtime and Lonesome Dove.

9 comments:

jenclair said...

Oh, this sounds like fun! I love this kind of novel and will be looking for it right away. Thanks, Susan!

SFP said...

You're welcome, JenClair. I think you'll love it as much as I did.

Gentle Reader said...

I was hesitating to get it because it sounded like it would take me weeks to get through, too--so I'm glad you say you didn't want to stop reading it...you've inspired me to take the plunge! Thanks!

bhadd said...

The author gave an interesting story about the composition of this novel on the NY Times podcast. He wrote strictly from an 1847 Websters so that the language felt real.

The Hood Company

Stefanie said...

Sorry you haven't been feeling well, but at least you've been able to read which makes all the difference. Hope your better soon!

danielle said...

I've been wondering about this one. It sounds like fun--another one to buy, I think! My problem is I have too many good ones started....

Wendy said...

Thanks for the review on this! I bought this book last month using a 46% off coupon at Barnes and Noble...it is a thick book and one that instantly appealed to me; but I don't know yet when I'm going to read it! Your review is encouraging me to make time for this novel :)

caribousmom.blogharbor.com

Maggie said...

Ew, I was just reading about this book in Publishers Weekly. I'll order it for the library, ew, and grab it ASAP. :D

Ex Libris said...

Glad to hear you liked Heyday. I bought it but have since read mixed reviews. Goes to show I should go with my instinct :)