Sprawling but undercooked saga of Manhattan and environs.
Perhaps the qualifying subtitle of Rutherfurd’s latest cat-squasher (Rebels of Ireland, 2006, etc.) is meant to distinguish it from, say, the sidecar volume to Ric Burns’ documentary or any number of histories. Sadly, in the comparison, this novel suffers. Written in formulas and clichés, it stretches to the horizon with stock characters, as with this apparition of good Peter Stuyvesant: “The governor’s face was set hard as flint. Standing tall and erect on his peg leg, he had never looked more indomitable. You had to admire the man.” Given such a description, one wonders why the Dutch ever lost Nieuw Amsterdam in the first place. Prose like that would do Dan Brown proud, but it gets worse. Much better is Rutherfurd’s structuring of the tale to track the progress of one generation to the next, showing familial connections and revisiting themes that cross the centuries, many of them touching on the beguiling qualities of the Big Apple: “Before he’d even gone to Columbia, Charlie had shown a precocious interest in the nightlife of the great city…More than once he’d come home drunk.” The narrative is as studded with characters as Edwin Burrows and Mike Wallace’s magisterial history Gotham (1998); within a couple of pages, Woodrow Wilson, Nicholas Murray Butler, Henry Frick, Charles Scribner and the Kaiser make appearances. In the main, though, Rutherfurd’s principals are blue-blooded and noble, if conflicted and not always ethical—which seems quite in keeping with the historical realities.
A mixed bag, with effective plotting hampered by clunky writing.