Length: 293 pages
About: 19th century entrepreneur makes concrete
Style: 3rd person
Where: US (New York)
When: 1880s - 1900s
Young Martin Dressler begins his career as an industrious helper in his father's cigar store. In the course of his restless young manhood, he makes a swift and eventful rise to the top,
accompanied by two sisters--one a dreamlike shadow, the other a worldly business partner. As the eponymous Martin's vision becomes bolder and bolder he walks a haunted line between fantasy and
reality, madness and ambition, art and industry, a sense of doom builds piece-by-hypnotic piece until this mesmerizing journey into the heart of an American dreamer reaches its bitter-sweet
There once lived a man named Martin Dressler, a shopkeeper's son, who rose from modest beginnings to a height of dreamlike good fortune. This was toward the end of the nineteenth century, when on
any streetcorner in America you might see some ordinary-looking citizen who was destined to invent a new kind of bottlecap or tin can, start a chain of five-cent stores, sell a faster and better
elevator, or open a fabulous new department store with big display windows made possible by an improved process for manufacturing sheets of glass. Although Martin Dressler was a shopkeeper's son, he
too dreamed his dream, and at last he was lucky enough to do what few people even dare to imagine: he satisfied his heart's desire. But this is a perilous privilege, which the gods watch jealously,
waiting for the flaw, the little flaw, that brings everything to ruin, in the end.
Stories, like conjuring tricks, are invented because history is inadequate to our dreams.' So says the narrator of Steven Millhauser's story 'Eisenheim the Illusionist,' and that claim might stand
as an epigraph to his new conjuring trick of a novel, 'Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer.
New York Times, Janet Burroway 12th May 1996
Not so good:
Millhauser's literary experiment is a marvellous, highly intelligent and provoking artefact; but it fails, profoundly, to engage on any but an intelletual level.
The Times, Calre Messud, 26th March 1998
About the author
Born August 3, 1943 Millhauser was born in New York City, grew up in Connecticut, and earned a B.A. from Columbia University in 1965. He then pursued a doctorate in English at Brown University.
Millhauser lives in Saratoga Springs, New York and teaches at Skidmore College.