The Cold Millions

Jess Walter. Harper, $28.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-286808-4
Walter (Beautiful Ruins) reconstructs the free speech riots of 1909–1910 in Spokane, Wash., in this superb tale of orphaned, train-hopping brothers Gig and Rye Dolan. After their mother dies from tuberculosis, Rye, 16, leaves their childhood home in Montana to join Gig. The brothers spend a year looking for seasonal work, then settle in Spokane, the “old Klondike town [that] had grown into a proper city,” where “money flowed straight uphill” and a $10 pair of gloves is a class-defining luxury. Rye is arrested during a riot and charged with disorderly conduct, and his lawyer introduces him to the sympathetic Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a New Yorker and union organizer who has come to Spokane to advocate for “the cold millions with no chance in this world.” Gig and Rye also meet Ursula the Great, a bawdy vaudevillian who cavorts in corset and stockings with a caged cougar and wins Gig’s heart despite her romantic involvement with a mining boss. The novel’s cast mixes fictional characters and historical figures such as labor lawyer Fred Moore, police chief John Sullivan, and organizers John Walsh and Frank Little, and adds a literary layer to Gig’s self-determination (he travels with a library including White Fang and two volumes of War and Peace, “always on the lookout for the rest”). The sum is a splendid postmodern rendition of the social realist novels of the 1930s by Henry Roth, John Steinbeck, and John Dos Passos, updated with strong female characters and executed with pristine prose. This could well be Walter’s best work yet. (Oct.)
Reviewed on : 06/09/2020
Release date: 10/01/2020
Genre: Fiction
Ebook - 352 pages - 978-0-06-286810-7
Paperback - 496 pages - 978-0-06-302969-9
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