Heyday is a brilliantly imagined, wildly entertaining tale of America’s boisterous coming of age–a sweeping panorama of madcap rebellion and overnight fortunes, palaces and brothels, murder and revenge–as well as the story of a handful of unforgettable characters discovering the nature of freedom, loyalty, friendship, and true love.
In the middle of the nineteenth century, modern life is being born: the mind-boggling marvels of photography, the telegraph, and railroads; a flood of show business spectacles and newspapers; rampant sex and drugs and drink (and moral crusades against all three); Wall Street awash with money; and giddy utopian visions everywhere. Then, during a single amazing month at the beginning of 1848, history lurches: America wins its war of manifest destiny against Mexico, gold is discovered in northern California, and revolutions sweep across Europe–sending one eager English gentleman off on an epic transatlantic adventure. . . .
Amid the tumult, aristocratic Benjamin Knowles impulsively abandons the Old World to reinvent himself in New York, where he finds himself embraced by three restless young Americans: Timothy Skaggs, muckraking journalist, daguerreotypist, pleasure-seeker, stargazer; the fireman Duff Lucking, a sweet but dangerously damaged veteran of the Mexican War; and Duff’s dazzling sister Polly Lucking, a strong-minded, free thinking actress (and discreet part-time prostitute) with whom Ben falls hopelessly in love.
Beckoned by the frontier, new beginnings, and the prospects of the California Gold Rush, all four set out on a transcontinental race west–relentlessly tracked, unbeknownst to them, by a cold-blooded killer bent on revenge.
A fresh, impeccable portrait of an era startlingly reminiscent of our own times, Heyday is by turns tragic and funny and sublime, filled with bona fide heroes and lost souls, visionaries (Walt Whitman, Charles Darwin, Alexis de Tocqueville) and monsters, expanding horizons and narrow escapes. It is also an affecting story of four people passionately chasing their American dreams at a time when America herself was still being dreamed up–an enthralling, old-fashioned yarn interwoven with a bracingly modern novel of ideas.
"In this utterly engaging novel, the author of Turn of the Century brings 19th-century America vividly to life . . . While this is a long book, it moves quickly, with historical detail that's involving but never a drag on the action; the characters are beautifully drawn. A terrific book; highly recommended." –Library Journal
"Heyday is fuled by manic energy, fanatical research, and a wicked sense of humor.... It's a joyful, wild gallop through a joyful, wild time to be an American." -Vanity Fair
This historical novel may surprise readers who know Kurt Andersen as the cofounder of Spy magazine and the author of the wise and acerbic Turn of the Century (1999). It's set in the mid 19th century, for one thing, and not at least not ostensibly about media or celebrity. Benjamin Knowles is a young Englishman infatuated with all things American, including and especially the part-time actress/part-time prostitute Polly Lucking, whom he meets on his first passage to New York. Just as Knowles and Polly are about to go public with their love, Knowles does that boy-thing i.e., says something stupid and she flees New York. It's worth getting through the slowish beginning to arrive at the delightful, intelligent last two-thirds of this long novel when Knowles teams up with Polly's damaged brother, Duff, and family friend, Timothy Scaggs, a journalist of sorts, in a trek west in search of the freethinking Ms. Lucking, with a murderer just behind them (it's a subplot). Andersen's second novel is more than just a love story or a history lesson (though there are details included that make it clear how much research Andersen did); it's a true novel of ideas. The group visits a 19th-century health farm/cult, for example. The occasional historical figure e.g., Charles Darwin makes an appearance as well. There are shades of T.C. Boyle's The Road to Wellville, as well as aspirations toward E.L. Doctorow. But in the end, this second novel belongs to Andersen, a tale of bright, rambunctious, aspiring young people. Like them, the book is rowdy, knowing and wholly American.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Great story and Andersen has a tremendous knowledge of history. Good characters which you want to follow....EAF
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Intriguing characters, piquant historical situations & interplay between the two
There are gender, racial, and class stories here, woven together and depicted so entertainingly. It's fun to trace all of it to movements of the sixties and today and I got the feeling I was meant to. No problem there - was happy to learn about my activist ancestors and the forces that affected them and, conversely, ways in which they affected things.