By Steven Millhauser

this was a strange little book all around. charged with an understated but tangible fervor for capitalism, architecture, and sex it hinted ineffectually at the themes and thrust of Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead.”

and though it purports to be the “tale of an american dreamer” no dreams emerge from the imagination of our main character. it seems young Martin Dressler can do no wrong. everything at which he sets his hand is wildly successful. as such, he seems to have no character or depth. he has standards to which he adheres, but they seem to have no real origin or function.

as he sails through his strange life, Martin mounts new heights of success and attempts increasingly ambitious undertakings along the way. yet all of this happens without any apparent motive force driving his actions. it is almost as if things vaguely occur to him, he does them, and then they are wildly successful for no apparent reason. it is a singularly uninteresting way to watch events unfold.

near the end of this novel it takes on a strangely esoteric tone which is totally out of step with all that came before it in the book. we foray from a fairly believable 19th century landscape into an improbable past where nothing we have been led to expect seems true any longer.

even the eventual ruin of the main character leaves one feeling ambivalent at best. since triumph came so easily, it is hard to muster much sympathy for his fall. his unswerving devotion to his last venture seems strange and without real purpose, except to see to the end of his unbridled success.

i read this book in the course of one evening and found it almost utterly without merit. had i had something else at hand, i doubt i would have bothered to finish it.