12.11.19

DREAMLAND, by Nancy Bilyeau

A marvelous evocation of life in 1911 New York, as told through the eyes of twenty year-old Peggy Batternberg, rebel daughter of privilege who "slums" with her extended Jewish family for a summer at Coney Island. But why has this pompous, fabulously rich upper class family consented to the stay at the hoi-poloi Brooklyn shore? Peggy's sister, the only member of the clan she has a meaningful relationship with, is engaged. It was the fiance's demand.
Rebellious and open-minded, chafing at the restrictions a female from her class must endure, Peggy goes to Coney Island with three male relatives. She storms away from them and finds herself in Dreamland, one of Coney Island's massive amusement parks. An art exhibit captures her interest. She meets Stefan, a poor Serbian immigrant and talented artist. She likes him. They can talk. He takes her to dinner. Her family would be horrified.
But the proper veneer of respectability the Batternberg family - particularly the men - projects hides a multitude of sins, most shared by the mercurial Henry Taul, Peggy's future brother-in-law. Who has a mistress, and where is she kept? Which brothels do they patronize? Who is involved in the murders of young women? Why have the police singled out a poor, powerless Serbian artist as suspect? When Peggy protests at Stefan's brutal treatment, her powerful Uncle David threatens her with the ultimate punishment.
You'll be grateful for your air-conditioning, for comfy clothes, for the right to vote, indeed for the many freedoms women didn't have and are so well-drawn in this book. It is as much social commentary as well as historical murder mystery. It's a five.
Many thanks to the publisher, Endeavour Media, and NetGalley for this Advance Reading copy. Dreamland will be released January 2, 2020.

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