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When Filius Poe sets out for Boulder City, the country is in the grips of the Great Depression, the Hoover administration in its final days. Filius, a young engineer from Wisconsin with a number of dams under his belt, has secured a job helping to tame the mighty Colorado and hopes the sheer scale of the era's greatest engineering feat will distract him from recent, devastating losses. Meanwhile, Lena and Burr McCardell, a young mother and son fleeing a shocking betrayal, and Lew Beck, a diminutive fighter with a short fuse to match his stature--as well as thousands of other workers–have embarked upon similar pilgrimages to "the only city in America where everyone has a job." Soon, the lives of these troubled souls have intersected, offering up both the promise of second chance at love and the threat of shocking violence and wrath. Bruce Markuff, the literary equivalent of a master river guide, navigates the stories of these characters and more to offer a breathtaking vista of history and humanity.From the Trade Paperback edition.read more
This impressive debut was one of my favorite novels of 2004. Murkoff combines wonderfully cadenced, vivid descriptions of the depression era West (think rangy expansive prose in the tradition of Steinbeck and Doig) with strongly-stamped characters who gradually emerge from the landscape into compelling life. The lives of three individuals flow towards each other — Filius Poe, a strong silent master builder whose life has crashed about his ears (Gregory Peck?); Lena McCardell, a woman who has taken her son and fed Oklamhoma and a traveling salesman who turned out to have another wife and family elsewhere on his circuit; and Lew Beck, a tough little runt who has been twisted by a succession of bullies into a ferocious homicide. These three types eventually converge and roil together at the construction of the great Boulder (aka Hoover) dam. Murkoff starts things off in a leisurely way, carrying you along on his assured, ambling prose suffused with sights and sounds and smells that are a strong as memory itself (there’s a busride that had me gasping for fresh air), and gradually builds things to the inevitable crescendo.read more
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Murkoff's stately debut novel tracks three characters whose lives and fates converge at the building of the Boulder Dam near Las Vegas during the Great Depression. Filius Poe, an engineer, escapes from Chicago and heads to Boulder City to bury himself in work, hoping to erase memories of a recent tragedy. Lena McCardell, too, is fleeing calamity, hoping for a new start with her young son in tow. And then there is Lew Beck, born to loving parents but eventually hardened into a bitter avenger after years of being tormented for his abnormal shortness. Murkoff takes his time laying out each individual's story, but the novel's pace, though measured, never flags, and eventually all three characters arrive in Boulder City, "the only city in America where everyone has a job." At times, Filius seems a bit too much like a square-jawed, heroic martyr and Lena the picture of persevering female strength. Murkoff's strongest creation is Lew, a terrifying, angry man prone to quick and violent outbursts, who "looked for the soft places" in people "and remembered them." He moves through the novel like a menacing black cloud, earning both the reader's sympathy and disgust. Murkoff's precise, period-flavored prose deftly captures the inner lives and physical presence of his characters (Lena's friend Fanny makes an appearance "trailing a Max Factor lilac scent that overpowered the smell of the fresh-baked doughnuts she carried in a paper sack") as well as the harsh landscape of Nevada ("the dull richness of this carmine palette, with its rugged skin and dismal reach") and the Colorado River that must be tamed. Marred only by a melodramatic ending, the novel announces the arrival of a real talent. 5-city author tour. (Feb. 28) Forecast: Knopf is strongly behind this first novel, with a 35,000 first printing and a five-city author tour. Though some reviewers may dismiss it as a throwback, others will relish Murkoff's stylized prose, and readers should respond, too. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved