Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Martin Dressler

The subtitle to this Steven Millhauser book is: “The Tale of an American Dreamer” and, if nothing else, Martin Dressler was one hell of a dreamer. Martin Dressler is the story of a young boy who grew up in a room over his father’s small cigar shop, a room from which the youngest Dressler schemed and plotted ways to grow his father’s cigar business. Each early success encouraged Dressler to build on dreams ever bigger than the ones that preceded them as he moved from one restaurant, to a chain of restaurants, to small hotels, to larger and larger hotels, and finally to something that the world had never seen before, a self-contained vertical city that became his ruination.

Sadly enough, Dressler never had much of a personal life, preferring work to relationships, and he was really only close to one person before his downfall, his sister-in-law. Married to a woman whom he found to be more physically attractive, too late he found that he had made a terrible choice of a wife, a wife who eventually made sure that he could no longer work or even speak to her sister in private.

As he lost everything that he had worked so long and so hard to build, Martin Dressler came to realize that “…if in the end he had dreamed the wrong dream, the dream that others didn’t wish to enter, then that was the way of dreams, it was only to be expected, he had not desire to have dreamt otherwise.” So Martin Dressler was content with his lot and more or less enjoyed the ride.

Martin Dressler is a Pulitzer Prize winning novel. But as happens with so many prize winners, I am at a loss to explain how that might have happened. Yes, the book is filled with interesting observations about American life, capitalism and why certain types find themselves at the top. And although the sentence structure is so cumbersome that it becomes tedious after a while, the writing is generally superb. The problem, for me, is that Martin Dressler does not break any new ground or even go over old grown in a way that could be considered new or worthy of such a prize.

Rated: 2.5


  1. This book sounds really interesting. I've already put it on my to read list. As for why some books make it to Pulitzer Prize winning status...I have no idea. I have wondered on more than one occasion why certain books are awarded when they seem good, but not revolutionary to me.

  2. It's definitely an interesting book, Trisha. But I always know that something is wrong with a book(for me as a reader) when I start finding myself looking forward to the end of the book just to be rid of it. It just didn't hold any surprises for me and I had a sense of impending doom almost from the first third of the book onward. I hope you enjoy it; I know that I'm in the minority on this one.

  3. I love this book. With regard to not being surprised by the doom coming: the first paragraph of the book tells you that all is ruined by the end. It's not trying to surprise us with downfall. It is inevitable. It is the way the downfall happens, the journey that is the book. I don't usually read for, like, twists or shock. I kind of like to read for brilliant writing instead.

  4. Thanks for another point-of-view, Polanzak. Your points are well-taken and I appreciate you taking the time to share them.