Gilmore debuts with a familiar yet evocative multigenerational epic intertwining the lives of Jewish immigrants as they rise from humble beginnings in Brooklyn to positions of power in science, business and the theater.
After his older brother, Solomon, disgraces his family by becoming a bootlegging gangster during Prohibition, Joseph Brodsky makes himself into the perfect mensch. He marries up, to a lawyer’s daughter, earns a decent living selling cleaning products and invents “Essoil,” a revolutionary two-in-one solution. Solomon, aka Terry the Terrier, has run off with the Brodskys’ beautiful neighbor Pauline, leaving behind Pauline’s younger, plainer sister Francis to provide for her heartbroken parents. Working as a letter-writer for illiterate immigrants, Francis finds her calling as an actress. Despite her secret love for Joseph, she ends up in a happy marriage with Vladimir, a scientist at Westinghouse who creates the first television camera. Francis tries to convince Solomon, then Joseph, to back Vladimir’s work. Both say no, but Solomon’s well-spoken henchman, Seymour, quickly recognizes the possibilities. Married to an educated but increasingly insane Long Island girl, Seymour, whose Jewish mother emigrated from France, started out as a salesman, eventually settling into mob work. He invests in television as a way out of the gangster life. Soon, he’s pursuing his dream of becoming a Broadway producer, though Joseph will always consider him a mobster. After a failed turn in Seymour’s first production, Francis becomes the star of TV commercials for Essoil, which makes Joseph millions. Meanwhile, Solomon goes to prison and Pauline disappears. Years later, Joseph’s daughter and Seymour’s son fall in love and marry. After Joseph’s death, Pauline shows up with a surprising new identity.
In an overstuffed plot studded with historical minutiae, the story’s small domestic and internal moments are what ring true.