Jess Walter’s first novel in eight years arrives with the load of high expectations. His last, Beautiful Ruins, was a shocking and genuinely-earned bestseller. His preceding fiction—which include crime novels, a Sep 11 tale and short stories—were rapturously reviewed.
In The Cold Millions, Walter tries some other combined genre, the Western ancient novel, and shows he's a grasp at investigating the “hobo” global of 1909. The megastar of the ebook is Spokane, Washington, a “boomtown that just kept booming.” It is here, amid skid row poverty and mansions of wealth, that 19-year-old rabble rouser Elizabeth Gurley Flynn intersects with orphaned young men, Rye and Gig, who are the protagonists of the story.
The book is uneven, however, and falls short of the romanticism of Beautiful Ruins. There is high-quality detail on darkish anarchy and dank prison cells, but unlike Walter’s funny version of Richard Burton in Ruins, Flynn is so focused (one may say didactic) as to be wooden. Her leadership of the dismal elegance struggle becomes repetitive. Rye and Gig are callow, and even though Gig is a e book lover and Rye a striver, they don’t absolutely inhabit their space. Readers can be a ways greater interested in the villain, a robber baron named Brand, and a smart circus performer named Ursula the Great. When these two are cavorting, The Cold Millions shines.
Walter has devised some remarkable set pieces, which includes a riot that leads to a dreadful scene of jail overcrowding. The freedom of the road, the lawlessness of the police, the spectacle of a few cynical electricity figures making life depressing for the huddled masses—it’s all enlivened by way of Walter’s vivid writing. A reader can experience the rails rattling under the trains that thunder thru the mountains. A new life, the twentieth century, is roaring into being. As Rye thinks to himself, “History is like a parade.”
Forget the ebook’s shortcomings; it’s top to have Jess Walter back.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Jess Walter gives a closer have a look at The Cold Millions, his “last-gasp Western.”