The weight of American history in the decades surrounding the War of 1812 crushes Bloom's first novel, an ambitious but tedious saga of unrequited love and family affairs. Daniel Carey is a New York printer of moderate means with hopes of becoming a historian to rival Edward Gibbons, who attracts the favorable attention of Gouverneur Morris with a chronicle of slavery in Manhattan and his ardent support of emancipation. Summoned into service on various errands for the aristocratic Morris, including a trip to France that puts him in the middle of the Napoleonic wars, he becomes a reliable if extremely peripheral agent, able to continue his historical research while discharging his duties. But his occasional contact with the mysterious and sensual Nancy, Gouverneur's wife, leaves him hopelessly in love, even when an old scandal reemerges involving her, the illustrious Randolph family of Virginia, and infanticide, and his patron asks him to investigate the claims against her. Carey vanishes abruptly from the novel, however, when it reverts to Nancy's past and the affairs of the Randolphs, for whom slavery was also a painful, divisive issue. The eyewitness history—with the New York militia in the campaign to invade Canada, Manhattan life and politics in the early 19th century, American first families, Napoleon's Europe- -by turns rich and fulsome, is never more than an end in itself as the dramatic sparks needed to quicken the plot fail to materialize. Ponderous and leaden, convoluted, an epic but in tedium res.
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