three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
28-May-June-2007
user_rating: 
0

A-HeydayBritish gentleman Benjamin Knowles arrives in America after a bout of wanderlust nearly gets him killed amid civil unrest in Paris. Immediately smitten with all things American—including Polly Lucking, actress and prostitute—Knowles heads west to seek his fortune and to escape Gabriel Drumont, a French sergeant intent on avenging his brother’s death, which he wrongly attributes to Knowles. Along with some striking, unsavory characters as well as numerous historical personalities—Charles Darwin, Friedrich Engels, Edgar Allan Poe, and Stephen Foster, among others—Knowles and his compatriots chase the American Dream against the backdrop of the California gold rush.
Random House. 640 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 0375504737

Houston Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Andersen has researched his material well enough to be at home with it, and the seams between fiction and nonfiction almost never show. … In Heyday, as in the best historical fiction, the future doesn’t seem predetermined but exists as a series of possibilities—for good and for evil." Allen Barra

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[O]ne of the best things about Heyday is Andersen’s refusal to surrender to sentiment. … Andersen’s novel is a major historical work, of lore and wisdom, irony and humor—the kind of historical novel that has always been the most satisfying to read." Susan Straight

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"Spanning vast intellectual and geographic territory, Heyday portrays the growing pains of changing societies, measuring with a confident pace the opportunities and pitfalls that mark such times. … Manifest Destiny may be a questionable political doctrine, but it drives forward a superb work of fiction here." Clayton Moore

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"It’s a mighty busy and messy story, jumping among the urban settings of Gotham, Paris, London, Chicago and San Francisco; evil is afoot and brutality the quotidian, but Heyday is also a sweet book, with a tropism toward redemption and happy endings. … Andersen is so keen to observe the wonders of his world that his characters seem able to see as clearly at night as at noon, and if his novel’s back is broken by the weight of its minutiae, its flow dammed by the debris of its detail, there is something moving, a stirring spirit, in the energy of its amazement." Geoffrey Wolff

Wall Street Journal 3 of 5 Stars
"Mr. Andersen peoples Heyday with appealing characters, plausibly of their time and place. … If [he] continues in this genre, and learns to skim off the clutter, he may have a promising future in the past." Mark Lewis

New York Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"The present-day resonance of Heyday can be witty. … But the weight of its factoids and conversation-piece data keep it anchored in its own particular moment." Janet Maslin

Critical Summary

Kurt Andersen is best known for his previous novel (the irreverent, postmillennial Turn of the Century), his role as cofounder and editor of the now-defunct Spy magazine, and as host of public radio’s Studio 360. Heyday, Andersen’s second novel, recalls the work of Gore Vidal, T. C. Boyle, Thomas Mallon, and even Charles Dickens. Critics agree that while the author’s vision is grand and his execution ambitious, Knowles’s adventures too often get bogged down in the minutiae of the period at the expense of storytelling (Janet Maslin deems the effect "compulsive pedantry"). Fans of books that set forth Big Ideas (Heyday very much differs from Turn of the Century) will revel along with Andersen, who clearly enjoys what he’s doing here as he celebrates the tumultuous energy and the careless optimism of an America on the move.