Saturday, February 8, 2020

Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau

Dreamland. Nancy Bilyeau. Endeavour Media Ltd. January 2020. pb, 386 pp.; ISBN: 9781911445968

In 1911 Peggy Batternberg spends a summer at Coney Island, one of the world’s favorite playgrounds, a method her famous, rich family is using to curb her lower class desires and dreams.  Up to that summer she was allowed to work in a bookstore, a job she loved because it opened up her world to famous books, art and people who have global perspectives and style.  She was to marry but her almost fiancĂ© turned out to be out of Peggy’s taste.  Later she will be proven correct in her estimation.  Her family’s Jewish heritage is problematic at times but doesn’t stop them from flaunting their wealth and gaining what they want, including what is shameful.

At Coney Island, she breaks away from her family one late afternoon and meets a young, talented artist whose taste in art moves Peggy to tears.  Soon she realizes that she loves this Serbian artist, Stefan.  The author is adept at catching every tantalizing look, smell, taste and touch to do with Coney Island, including the famous exhibit called “Dreamland.”  However, the law is not so admiring of immigrant artists and have investigated Stefan, believing he is an anarchist come to America to bring violence and trouble. He therefore is considered worthy of watching especially in light of the death of two young women right on the beach. 

During this time, Peggy will discover some real culprits who are guilty of criminal acts.  The ending of this book may not satisfy everyone but reflects a reality where the world characterized and judged those in different classes; the reader becomes exposed to more like the true reality in and around Peggy Batternberg’s family and neighborhood.

Coney Island was famous for Nathan’s hot dogs, freak shows, ice cream, lemonade and cotton candy  In every “fun” spot are some shadows, however, and Nancy Bilyeau is to be commendable to show the famous, loved spot in all of its shapes, shades, illusions and realities.  Great historical fiction and a great read!!!

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