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Heyday: A Novel Paperback – December 26, 2007

3.6 out of 5 stars 57 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This historical novel may surprise readers who know Kurt Andersen as the cofounder of Spy magazine and the author of the wise and acerbic Turn of the Century (1999). It's set in the mid–19th century, for one thing, and not—at least not ostensibly—about media or celebrity. Benjamin Knowles is a young Englishman infatuated with all things American, including and especially the part-time actress/part-time prostitute Polly Lucking, whom he meets on his first passage to New York. Just as Knowles and Polly are about to go public with their love, Knowles does that boy-thing—i.e., says something stupid—and she flees New York. It's worth getting through the slowish beginning to arrive at the delightful, intelligent last two-thirds of this long novel when Knowles teams up with Polly's damaged brother, Duff, and family friend, Timothy Scaggs, a journalist of sorts, in a trek west in search of the freethinking Ms. Lucking, with a murderer just behind them (it's a subplot). Andersen's second novel is more than just a love story or a history lesson (though there are details included that make it clear how much research Andersen did); it's a true novel of ideas. The group visits a 19th-century health farm/cult, for example. The occasional historical figure—e.g., Charles Darwin—makes an appearance as well. There are shades of T.C. Boyle's The Road to Wellville, as well as aspirations toward E.L. Doctorow. But in the end, this second novel belongs to Andersen, a tale of bright, rambunctious, aspiring young people. Like them, the book is rowdy, knowing—and wholly American. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Kurt Andersen is best known for his previous novel (the irreverent, postmillennial Turn of the Century), his role as cofounder and editor of the now-defunct Spy magazine, and as host of public radio's Studio 360. Heyday, Andersen's second novel, recalls the work of Gore Vidal, T. C. Boyle, Thomas Mallon, and even Charles Dickens. Critics agree that while the author's vision is grand and his execution ambitious, Knowles's adventures too often get bogged down in the minutiae of the period at the expense of storytelling (Janet Maslin deems the effect "compulsive pedantry"). Fans of books that set forth Big Ideas (Heyday very much differs from Turn of the Century) will revel along with Andersen, who clearly enjoys what he's doing here as he celebrates the tumultuous energy and the careless optimism of an America on the move.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 622 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (December 26, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812978463
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812978469
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #405,072 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Kirk McElhearn VINE VOICE on August 21, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was torn between giving this book 4 stars or only 3. There are lots of negatives that distracted me from really enjoying this book, but, when I got to the end, I realized that it was worth the read.

I won't describe the plot - plenty of others have done that, and the book's summary is sufficient. Suffice it to say that the plot itself is one of the book's weaknesses: other reviewers mentioned the coincidences that forced me to suspend disbelief over and over again, but I think, as the book progresses, you get so used to these coincidences that it doesn't matter. In the end, the book is a kind of fairy tale, and coincidence is essential for such stories.

What bothered me most, however, is the author's need to flex his historical muscles at every turn. He clearly did lots of research, and wants to make sure you know it. He almost uses Tom Swifties - bits of exposition that go overboard to explain what he's presented - when tossing around "authentic" elements from the time. Inventions, clothing, food, and anything else he can present, Andersen keeps reminding us that he did his homework. Yet this ends up more distracting than if he simply mentioned these things in passing, or, rather, _didn't_ mention them all.

I read a lot of 19th century fiction, and Heyday does fit well into that style (though clearly it is contemporary, ie 21st century, 19th century fiction.) It's a fun read, full of interesting characters, and only a few tics mar its overall effect.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is one of the broad scope of 19th century history stories coloring the lives of the family and friends who make up the main characters of the book. It is not really historical fiction, but more in the line of one of the John Jakes type of novel where the characters are witnesses to the birth of modern times rather than the agents of the historical events.

This is an enjoyable tale, but not a book with a definable plot. It would be a great book to make into one of those television mini-series with a "Winning of the West" type of theme. In this story, you follow the adventures of the main characters through a period of not much more than a couple of years when the world was changing. This book takes you from one of the many revolutions (or maybe just revolts) in France through an enlightenment period in England and the growing pains of a growing immigrant population in New York City to the gold fields of California.

There are some spots in the book where the story was somewhat stretched to bring the main characters into contact with famous people or historical events. It is hard for me to fathom that four diverse people at that time in history would be personally acquainted with Abraham Lincoln, Charles Dickens, Walt Whitman, Alexis de Tocqueville and John C. Fremont. The four characters consist of the son of a wealthy, titled peer in England, an often fired reporter in New York, an "actress" and her obsessively religious, Mexican War veteran brother. I was sort of expecting the last page of the book would close with "And they lived happily ever after" since there was no real ending to the book,
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Novelist Kurt Andersen has hit the jackpot with "Heyday." This big book

(over 600 pages) turns the page of history back to that pivotal year of 1848. Steam was replacing sail in shipping; telegraph wires were buzzing; Womens' Rights activitist were meeting at Seneca Falls, New York and the California Gold Rush was pushing the new nation westward to the Pacific Ocean. Charles Darwin was challenging traditional biblical beliefs regarding creation; France and other European nations were embroiled in mass revolts in which the poor cried for justice and the Victorian world was moving into the modern industrial world as seen in the huge factories of Manchester and Birmingham. America was a big adolescent as ethnic groups fought loved and were learning to co-exist in the land of the free and home of the brave!

Giants were walking the American and world stage. In the USA there was Abraham Lincoln and Walt Whitman. Edgar Poe was a popular lecturer and author. Elizabeth Cady Stanton a champion for Womens' Rights while Frederick Douglass demanded the slaves be freed. Such men as John Charles Fremont were opening up California to statehood through their pioneering efforts. In Europe it was the time of Marx and Engles. Great English authors such as Charles Dickens were in their prime. The novel alludes to a stage work of "Dombey and Son" evincing the interest on this side of the Atlantic in Mr. Dickens works.

Andersen has read thousands of articles, books and newspapers to take the reader back to this crucial time. He has also written a popular, exciting adventure story featuring murders, prostitutes, army deserters, 49ers, theatrical folk and a vast assemblage of the average citizen of that colorful era.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I wanted a good long summer read, so I bought this one. 620 pages. I was not disappointed. It has a large cast of characters who meet, separate, and reunite in various countries as the years pass. Epic in scope. Unlike a lot of novels, this one has a lot of realistic detail, a lot of it unpleasant. (Forgive me for giving away just one, but I loved the bit about how the Manhattan drag-queens tied raw pork chops to their upper thighs in order to fool drunk johns during dark-alley standups. You don't get detail like that in most novels!) There are also a lot of famous people who make cameo appearances. Since I had no idea how things were going to end (I deliberately avoided reading plot synopses of it), I got caught up in the spirit and sweep and became very interested in the lives and fates of these characters. It's a very good read. I was going to allow myself about 20 pages per day, but I soon found myself going for 40 or 50 per day. One of the great things about historical fiction is when you can say that you're glad you live in the clean and modern world of 2007 and not the filth and squalor of 1849. And it makes me appreciate what my ancestors went through to survive the entire 19th century. I can fully recommend this one if you want a good complex adult read.
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