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CASTLE GARDEN by Bill Albert


by Bill Albert

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 1-877946-67-2
Publisher: Permanent Press

An over-peopled, over-subplotted second novel from the author of Desert Blues (1994), this set in the turn-of-the-century American West. It's 1906 when 11-year-old Meyer Liebermann—shocked at learning that he's adopted and that his natural mother was one of the ``Division Street Jews,'' the dregs of Europe—experiences a crisis of identity and runs away from his wealthy New York home. Then, his larynx crushed in a mugging by a Jewish street gang, Meyer is left for dead outside Madison Square Garden, where he's found by Sunset Buffalo Dreamer, a Sioux member of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Now a mute, the young Meyer is informally adopted by the Sioux and given the first of his many new names. His symbolic rebirth reflects Albert's theme that Americans constantly reinvent themselves and that with each new identity comes a new story. This promising idea, however, is smothered by too many stories: Buffalo Bill and the passing of the Wild West; Big Bill Haywood and the Wobblies; May Arkwright Hutton and women's suffrage; the temperance movement; the Indians' loss of sovereignty; racial prejudice; judicial corruption; the plight of prostitutes. Meyer frequently compares himself with Twain's Huckleberry Finn, but Huck's journey ultimately had a purpose: to free Jim and confront his own prejudice. This young man's journey across the West seems to have no purpose, except perhaps to provide an Old West adventure. Even his involvement with Bill Haywood's efforts to unionize Colorado's miners is more accidental than purposeful, though the account is so choked with minor characters named but not introduced, and so confused with the tag ends of other subplots, that it's unlikely the reader will notice. Accurate historical research and occasional humor fail to compensate for a lack of focus and an overabundance of sheer subject.