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Thursday, December 7, 2006

Martin Dressler

Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer by Steven Millhauser

7 of 11 people found the following review helpful:

January 13, 2003

Instead of a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, I found I'd purchased the written equivolent of an A&E Biography, or E! True Hollywood Story or VH1 Behind the Music, or any of those shows that take a life story and compress it into about an hour. That is as much depth as Martin Dressler has, which is unfortunate, because the premise is sound. The son of German immigrants goes from rags to riches in turn of the 20th Century New York, but ultimately goes too far and loses it all.

I'm astonished that a Pulitzer Prize can be awarded for such lousy storytelling. The entire book rushes along, with no attention paid to developing individual scenes or conversations. Millhauser seems to have an aversion to writing dialogue and instead glosses over entire conversations with a couple of sentences. The big drawback to this is that readers are confronted with monotonous pages of solid paragraphs with nothing to break up the white space.

Martin Dressler keeps moving along like a two-minute drill in the 4th Quarter of the Super Bowl, never allowing readers to really enjoy the book. As Martin builds one cafe, he's suddenly building five more. He's scarcely bought one hotel before construction begins on another. Some time needed to be given to WHY does he want to build and build. WHY isn't the latest hotel good enough for him. The author needed to dwell on these questions a little more.

And maybe it's because I've read too many John Irving novels lately, but Millhauser is so coy about the sex between Martin and various women in the book that it's hard to realize that anything has happened at all. It's just another symptom of the whole novel moving along too quickly instead of allowing things to develop.

Millhauser does give a lot of description, but sometimes too much at once. Instead of going through each hotel floor-by-floor all in one paragraph, it would have been nice if readers could have got to explore it through the eyes of Martin or maybe even some of the guests. That would have allowed us to experience the wonders of the Dressler, New Dressler, and Grand Cosmo (or perhaps the oddness of the Grand Cosmo), instead of simply being told an inventory of the hotel.

I've read a lot of books where authors lingered over the story too long, but Martin Dressler is one of the few where the author just didn't take enough time to fulfill the story's potential. In the end, it's the readers who are cheated by getting an episode of Biography when they could have had so much more.

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