Thursday, April 16, 2009

Review: Gangs and Whores of New York

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Kevin Baker’s Dreamland is an entertaining piece of historical fiction, especially living in New York City where I can picture familiar locations in a different time. The book tells the story of several individuals in New York at the turn of the century–when New Yorkers flocked to Coney Island in the summer rather than a movie house, when the Lower East Side was filled with factories and tenement housing, when gangs and loyalties ruled politics, and when the city experienced a flood of immigrants pursuing the American dream. As the reader, we experience the life of a prostitute, a female factory worker, an immigrant, a gang member, a midget in a Dreamland freak-show, and a corrupt politician. Though the novel is written entirely in third-person, Baker rotates chapters of focus on each character. His organizational style weaves the stories of each individual together, and the reader ultimately sees how their lives are all connected. The story stays fresh by the constant change of perspective, and the detail is impressive, in both event and everyday description. With stories ranging from love to tragedy to inhumanity, fact and fiction, Dreamland keeps the reader entertained throughout, despite its 639 pages.

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