cover image American Dreams

American Dreams

John Jakes. Dutton Books, $24.95 (495pp) ISBN 978-0-525-94437-9

In the competent second volume (after Homeland) of his Crown family chronicles, Jakes portrays America during the turbulent period from 1906 to 1917. Once again, the story centers on the family of German-American patriarch and Chicago beer baron Joe Crown, whose headstrong daughter Fritzi defies her father to pursue a dreadfully unsuccessful New York stage career. In desperation, she surrenders to the lure of performing in moving pictures, which takes her to ""empty, rural, and uncivilized"" Hollywood, where she falls in love and achieves a measure of fame as a comic actress. Meanwhile, her brother Carl gets tossed out of Princeton, goes to work for eccentric car manufacturer Henry Ford, becomes a race-car driver with Barney Oldfield, ""Speed King of the World,"" and flies as an ace pilot during WWI. Their cousin Paul is a professional news cameraman driven to record the horrors of war. He does not chase an American dream so much as become a chronicler of the world's nightmares. Once again, Jakes's strength is not in his splashy characters or cluttered plot, but in his knack for splicing in historical celebrities (ranging from Kaiser Wilhelm II to Mack Sennett) and details--Thomas Edison's pursuit of patent royalties on camera parts forced some studios to film in secret and inspired their move to California. Veteran saga-writer Jakes knows his reader's expectations and fulfills them with a solid, if predictable roman-fleuve. Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club featured alternate; Reader's Digest Connotations Book Program selection. (July)