Anthologist and novelist Chester (Bitches Ride Alone, 1991, not reviewed, etc.) revisits the Midwest's gilded age -- here,...



Anthologist and novelist Chester (Bitches Ride Alone, 1991, not reviewed, etc.) revisits the Midwest's gilded age -- here, in a lavishly detailed but rushed saga of four families' intertwined lives from the turn of the century to the present. Set in fictional Nogowogotoc Lake, a sort of midwestern Newport, where vast shingled summer ""cottages"" surrounded by grand gardens lined the lakeshore, the story relates how a group of fabulously wealthy families woo and war over the years. There are the Ulrichs (beer), the Feltons and their Wells and Faithorne descendants (department stores), the Hewitts (tanneries), and the Schraegers (sausage). There are also numerous narrators, though the point of view leans to that of the Felton/Wells/Faithorne clan -- millionaires with a conscience: Matriarch Sarah Wells, who employs a retinue of gardeners to maintain her estate, leaves a generous bequest to the city of Milwaukee; sonin-law Leonard gives food and clothes to the needy; and daughters Isabelle and Helen work selflessly for good causes. The other families' women are almost as civic-minded; even the notorious and stylish Alicia Ulrich -- who probably murdered her abusive father, though it could never be proven -- prefers philanthropy to philandering as she grows older. The men, meanwhile, are less redeemable: Wally Schraeger, though married, regularly patronizes the local bordello; Colin Hewitt beats his wife, Dana; And Trumbull Rose, a Hewitt descendant, is a sadist and anti-Semitic bully. Along the way there are many violent deaths -- Dana Hewitt's second husband, a Jew, is shot by the local fascists, Wally Schraeger dies in a plane crash, Colin is murdered by a terrified prostitute; torrid love affairs -- Alicia and Wally, Colin and the housemaid, Dana and visiting artist Joshua; plus lots of period high living with menus, dress, and venues all fully described. And as usual with sagas where incident, not insight, is all, this one ends abruptly and unsatisfactorily. Certainly sweeping, certainly vivid, but terminally thin.

Pub Date: May 1, 1995


Page Count: 382

Publisher: Faber & Faber

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1995