First Line: On those rare occasions when Magda thought of the past, she didn't recall the flames and the screams and the rows of bodies; she came here-- to these mementoes gathered in an old shoebox, souvenirs not of tragedy but of happiness.
When his debut novel becomes a bestseller, Robert Parrish's life and his cherished relationship with his girlfriend Rebecca begins to fall apart. Parrish knows that he must confront his secret demons in order to save the relationship, and doing that means diving headfirst into the books that changed his life-- a childhood set of serial novels featuring the Tremendous Trio.
Guided by twelve tattered books and a tantalizing story fragment, Robert's journey takes him to 1906 Manhattan, but every discovery he makes only leads to more questions.
His quest intertwines with the stories of three young people trying to define their places in the world at the start of a new century. Magda, Gene, and Tom not only write the children's books that Robert will one day love, together they explore the city on their doorstep. One quest becomes four, and readers will want to know what happens to them all.
Charlie Lovett knows how to find literary topics that I can't resist. From book collecting in The Bookman's Tale to Jane Austen in First Impressions to the Holy Grail in The Lost Book of the Grail (my favorite), this man has put a stranglehold on my imagination and my attention. In Escaping Dreamland, he's done it again.
Probably the best thing Lovett has done is to bring back many wonderful memories of the books I loved as a child. A favorite scene in the book is the one in which Parrish visits an elderly collector who tells him about saving his ten-cent allowance for five weeks so that his father would take him to Brentano's Bookstore on Fifth Avenue so he could buy the latest book in his favorite series. I learned so much fascinating history about children's serial fiction in Escaping Dreamland that I'm tempted to make time to read some again. Lovett weaves one memorable scene after another into his story: the San Francisco earthquake, John Singer Sargent painting a portrait, the General Slocum disaster, visiting Dreamland on Coney Island... He brings Gilded Age America (and in particular, New York City) to life, and if you're the type of reader who is concerned about the appearance of historical characters in a work of fiction, read Lovett's notes at the end of the book.
All the characters in the book except Parrish's girlfriend Rebecca have demons to fight. Only Robert's demon is left unspoken until the end, but it's rather easy to deduce. If there's one thing I don't particularly like about Escaping Dreamland, it is the "magic box" at the end, but at least the entirety of the lives of the three characters from the earlier timeline is not served up to Parrish on a silver platter. Readers know more than he does, and I like that.
I'm looking forward to Lovett's next book. It's not often that you find an author who knows how to get a grip on both your heart and your mind, and Charlie Lovett is one of those writers for me. If you're a fan, you've got a treat in store. If you've never heard of him before, I highly recommend this man's books. He knows how to tell a tale.
Escaping Dreamland by Charlie Lovett
Blackstone Publishing © 2020
eBook, 323 pages
Literary Mystery, Standalone
Source: Net Galley