A salesman struggles to survive in 1929 Chicago, before the Crash. This fourth novel from Schulz concludes his Jazz Age trilogy.
Harry Hennesey has been on the road for years in the Midwest, but not bringing home the bacon for his wife Marie and their two children. Gambling everything, the 43-year-old salesman sells his rural Illinois house, sends his family to his mother’s place in Texas and moves to Chicago, renting space in a warehouse to sell wholesale. Harry is a straight arrow and prize dummy, believing that if you follow the old maxims (dress well; look the client in the eye) you’ll get their business. But it doesn’t work that way in Prohibition-era Chicago. Corruption is rife. The warehouse’s owner, wealthy industrialist Charles Follette, will eventually evict Harry to make space for bootleggers, telling him “you’re a terrier among wolves.” And Harry has a distraction in Pearl, who flirts with him at a movie theater and won’t let him go. She’s streetwise but pure of heart, an adorable adolescent waif escaped from an orphanage, and she speaks in period slang applied so thick you can’t discern the individual underneath. Harry is wildly attracted to her but won’t sleep with her; she’s just too young. He’s no saint; he cheats on sexually frigid Marie but he’s a sentimentalist too, venerating his darling wife and kiddies. We ramble with Harry and Pearl through big-city adventures. They gatecrash a society party and dodge bullets in restaurants and roadhouses. There’s a wisp of plot (Follette is hunting for Pearl, his bastard daughter, and means her harm), but it’s not to be taken seriously. Schulz has done a prodigious amount of research yet is unable to penetrate the past and make it live for us. A dull, preachy protagonist and a relationship that’s stuck at first base compound his problems.
Boring, digressive and superficial.