Dreamland is a long book with a complicated plot. Parts of it go in circles, looping back around to come up again. But in the end, everything, or almost everything wraps up into one tight plot. Except for the Great Head Doctors from Vienna – Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and a couple of others. They apparently did make a journey to America in the general time period, and the story has them wandering by, sightseeing, at a couple of the scenes of action of the main story. But primarily they are doing their own thing and neither affect nor are affected by the main events of the story to any great extent.
It is a story of the early twentieth century. There are gangsters, Tammany politicians, sweatshop workers, whores, and Coney Island freaks. There are drinking and gambling in the most disgusting of Bowery bars, shows in the Coney Island amusement parks, murder, an opium den, abuse – physical and sexual – of young girls in garment factories, and several fires.
The story or at least part of it is narrated by a character called Trick the Dwarf who lived for a time in the Dreamland amusement park, one of at least three amusement parks on Coney Island. But the main characters are Esther Abromowitz and her boyfriend, Kid Twist. I liked the description of Esther’s early work experience, from being virtually sold to work in a cramped attic hand-sewing coats when she was still practically a child through several other equally demeaning sorts of sewing jobs to finally working at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory. There is a long stretch about union activities during her time at the Triangle factory. After the worst of the drama between Kid Twist and Gyp the Blood (who is really Esther’s brother Lazar) is finished, Trick the Dwarf professes not to know what happened to Esther and Kid. But if they did not leave the city, and if Esther did not take up working professionally for the union, she was set up perfectly to return to the Triangle factory. If that happened, she was then in a perfect position to die in the famous fire that subsequently struck that establishment killing over a hundred people due in large part to the foolish policies of the owners.
The book was a little difficult to get into at first, but as the relationship between the characters became clearer, it got better.