Fiction. Literature. Western. Historical Fiction. HTML: A Most Anticipated Book by: The New York Times Book Review * Wall Street Journal * Time * Esquire * The Millions * Vogue * People * New York Post * USA Today * Medium * The Philadelphia Inquirer * Newsday From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Beautiful Ruins comes another "literary miracle" (NPR)â??a propulsive, richly entertaining novel about two brothers swept up in the turbulent class warfare of the early twentieth century. An intimate story of brotherhood, love, sacrifice, and betrayal set against the panoramic backdrop of an early twentieth-century America that eerily echoes our own time, The Cold Millions offers a kaleidoscopic portrait of a nation grappling with the chasm between rich and poor, between harsh realities and simple dreams. The Dolans live by their wits, jumping freight trains and lining up for day work at crooked job agencies. While sixteen-year-old Rye yearns for a steady job and a home, his older brother, Gig, dreams of a better world, fighting alongside other union men for fair pay and decent treatment. Enter Ursula the Great, a vaudeville singer who performs with a live cougar and introduces the brothers to a far more dangerous creature: a mining magnate determined to keep his wealth and his hold on Ursula. Dubious of Gig's idealism, Rye finds himself drawn to a fearless nineteen-year-old activist and feminist named Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. But a storm is coming, threatening to overwhelm them all, and Rye will be forced to decide where he stands. Is it enough to win the occasional battle, even if you cannot win the war? Featuring an unforgettable cast of cops and tramps, suffragists and socialists, madams and murderers, The Cold Millions is a tour de force from a "writer who has planted himself firmly in the first rank of American authors" (Boston Globe).
No plot synopsis can show just how compelling a story Walter has crafted, or how well he has woven in real people and events with his fictional characters. I was sorry to reach the end of this wonderful novel.
How the brothers' fortunes unfold within the context of this fascinating and important bit of our national history provides for a captivating story. The narration moves between characters in an unusual manner, one which only the most skilled writer could pull off successfully. Jess Walter makes it work. Rye is the centerpiece but we get some first-person narrative from a handful of other characters, giving us a glimpse into their backgrounds and motivations of which Rye is never fully aware. This enriches the reading experience and, in the end, I could not put it down until I finished.
Jess Walter is not averse to lyrical humanism, a modest blending of Steinbeck and Doctorow. His characters leap off the page full of heart and folly. Some men are just bad. Others lack fellow-feeling. While other characters, as though to even the balance, are burdened by â€śfirst-degree aggravated empathy.â€ť Walter deploys a full palette across a wide canvas, but at the centre lies the brotherhood of Gig and Ryan, actual brother orphans, and brotherhood in that wider sense, in which all who share the common fate of man or woman share a kinship.
Inevitably this story of capitalist corruption, insidious graft, and idealistic campaigning for justice will strike some as a bit on the nose in these troubling times. Donâ€™t let that prevent you from enjoying this beautifully paced and finely judged adventure.
Set in Spokane from 1909 - 1911, when exploitive employment agencies were in cahoots with the wealthy mine owners as the only means for a man to find work. The city authorities impose a ban on free speech to prevent the labor movement from gaining a foothold in the city. And the Free Speech fights ensued.
Though mostly fiction, the author draws on actual events and people involved in the Labor Movement of that time, with Elizabeth Gurley Flynn playing a central role.
Though there is some brutality, the book poses philosophical questions about what it means to be involved in causes larger than oneself. And provides differing perspectives from some of the key characters in the novel.
"Fiction is the lie through which tell the truth" Camus
Gig and Rye are brothers, Rye only 16, as orphans Gig
This is an historical novel, an adventure story, a story of many lossess and few wins. A story of humanity, highlighting the debt we owe those who came before, those who stood up and fought for what they believed was right. We need more of those now. The authors note was informative and appreciated.
"they killed the world and called it progress."
"cruelty and hope should never be served together."
"All people except this rich cream, living and scraping and fighting and dying, and for what, nothing, the cold millions with no chance in this world."
ARC from Edelweiss.
I couldn't believe how the syphilitic town had metastasized. Smoke seeped from twenty thousand chimneys, pillars to an endless gray ceiling. The
â€śBooks that hadnâ€™t been cracked since they were shelved. Give money to a monkey and heâ€™ll fill his cage with bananas. Give the same money to a dim American and heâ€™ll build a show library every time.â€ť
It begins in 1909, in the rough and tumble town of Spokane, WA. The Dolan brothers, Rye and Gig have been jumping freight trains, finding day work and any trouble they can stir up. Things begin to shift, when Rye, the youngest is drawn to a young, pregnant union organizer named Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. The brothers then find themselves in a tumultuous and ugly, union battle, with Gig landing in jail and Rye mixing it up with some very dangerous characters.
I have been a fan of Jess Walter for many years. His last book, Beautiful Ruins was an absolute joy to read and he returns here, after a long absence and delivers his best book. Something Steinbeck would have admired. The writing and story-telling is stellar, throughout, populated with indelible characters, that stick with you long after you finish the last perfect sentence. Walter has also done an immense amount of research, sprinkling in a few real life characters, including Flynn. This his love letter to his hometown. Bruises and all.
Migrant workers sheltered in open fields as they drifted between cities,
The rise of unions was met with hostility, their leaders vilified as anarchists and revolutionaries who recruited discouraged workers into an expendable army.
The rich didn't want to level the playing field. They sold the dream of opportunity, the chance to rise into wealth like they had.
Pull yourself up by your bootstraps originally meant to do the impossible. We hear about the few who started with nothing and built empires. And of the 1% who now control the bulk of money, many unconcerned about the cold millions who exist outside of the mythic American Dream.
Jess Walter's novel tells the story of Gig and Rye, sons of Irish immigrants who have died, the boys become migrant workers. Pawns in the system, they had to pay money for information on who is hiring; after a while they were fired and once again had to pay money for information on who is hiring...
Gig is a Wobblie. When Rye sees him arrested at a peaceful demonstration of unionists, he is moved to join the protest. East Coast union organizer Elizabeth Gurley Flynn arrives to raise money to hire Charles Darrow to defend Gig and the five hundred workers wrongfully imprisoned and inhumanly treated. Rye becomes a symbol--the sixteen-year-old orphan abused by the police.
Rye is also courted by the richest man in town, Lemuel Brand, to spy on Gurley. Brand hires Dalveaux to stop the next union meeting, rolling out a speech about the "dangers of socialism--East Coast agitators--immigrant filth--concerned mine owners and business leaders--real Americans--jail full of vermin--mayor's hands tied--in support of police--moral responsibility--commercial interests--future in balance--last stand of decency--". Rye and Gurley are to be stopped.
One man to a boat. We all go over alone. The lesson comes early in the novel. Cops and killers, detectives and anarchists, wealthy men deciding everything in a back room, and Gurley--Rye knew them all. Each tried to be in charge of his own life. Rye outlasted them all, partly because of Gig's sacrifice, and partly because he found work and a family that took him in. Rye wasn't alone in the boat, after all. He was lucky. He won a few battles, and Gurley said that was all one could hope for in this life.
The Cold Millions is about the rise of the unions; it is historical fiction that makes past places and people come alive; it is a family drama that will tug at your heartstrings. The writing is fantastic. And best of all, it is a mirror flashing light on timeless social and personal conflicts.
I purchased a book.
I heard Walter interviewed for the Portland Bookfest.
His latest novel, The Cold Millions, drops the reader into 1909 Spokane, Washington where many lives converge. Gig and Ryan Dolan are young Irish immigrants who hop trains and try to find any kind of job they can. They come up against job agencies who take financial advantage of men like the Dolans, police who don't like these "bums" sleeping outside, and uber-wealthy businessmen, like mine owner Lemuel Brand, who uses his money to take every advantage he can to stay powerful.
Tired of being taken advantage of, Gig gets involved with union organizers and gets thrown in jail, along with 500 other men, after a big protest. Ryan turns to famed union speaker Elizabeth Gurley Flynn to help him get his brother out of jail. Flynn sees that she can use young Ryan to gain sympathy and money for the cause of protecting and promoting the union.
Ryan also turns to vaudeville performer Ursula, who is romantically involved with both Gig and Lemuel Brand. Brand is a man who uses everyone in his orbit, pitting people against each other, having loyalty to none.
Once again, Walters' carefully constructs a fascinating world, again weaving real people into his fictional narrative (Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were in Beautiful Ruins), like Flynn and labor lawyer Fred Moore. I loved the sibling relationship between Gig and Ryan, it felt so grounded in reality. The dichotomy of Ursula using her femininity to get what she wanted, while Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was harangued because she "acted more like a man" works so well here.
One might think that reading about union organizing in 1909 has no resonance in 2020, but as I was reading, all I could think was wow, these things are still happening today. Wealthy men want to control society to benefit themselves only, women who don't act in a matter that is considered docile are ridiculed, people at the bottom of the economic rung are scorned, and eventually when people have had enough, they will protest against injustice.
The Cold Millions is a brilliant book to get lost in, that makes you think that maybe we will make it out of these troubled times as apparently they have always been with us in one form or another. I give Cold Millions my highest recommendation.
Walter handles the mix of fact and fiction expertly: the characters all feel very real, the extensive historical research is unobtrusive, and the storyline is satisfying. The writing is excellent - you genuinely care about the characters, and it's hard to put the book down. The story builds to a well-crafted climax that is both surprising and inevitable.
Some of the characters are a little too black-and-white, and there's very little moral grey area - the bad guys are all totally bad and totally unsympathetic (the exceptions being a policeman who gets one POV chapter where his criminal actions are justified with sheer stupidity, and a private eye who does some morally questionable things that ultimately help the good guys).
This book is also a commentary on current events. Rye reflects on what it is like to be swept up in historical events, and how sometimes you don't have total control over your own actions because you are caught in the tide of events that are bigger than you. The powerful rich guys who want to suppress the working class so they can make more money are the bad guys, but when people help each other, they can overcome that suppression and be successful.
The novelâ€™s characters use every larger-than-life nuance of that word character. The Dolan brothers, Gig and Rye, come from Montana and are very different from each other. The sixteen-year-old Rye is looking for a steady income and a home as he figures out who he is. The older brother, Gig, chases women, enjoys the tenderloin district, while also fighting for union men getting a fair shake, as they battle the corrupt police and the big money controlling things from behind the scenes. Gig has read just enough Nietzsche and Rousseau to be dangerous.
When the two brothers are arrested, Ryeâ€™s young age becomes public knowledge, and efforts are made to eventually free him. Along the way, Rye becomes drawn to a nineteen-year-old feminist and activist, the fearless Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, who butts heads with most everyone and got him freed. (Flynn was an actual rabblerousing historic figure, a communist, and eventually one of the founders of the A.C.L.U.) Thereâ€™s also the dramatic Ursula the Great whoâ€™s a vaudeville singer who performs with a cougar in a cage. I loved the side story of how the once-ferocious bear she once performed with ruined the act when it fell in love with Ursula. Ursula introduces the brothers to something much more dangerous than her cougar, a mining magnate whoâ€™s got his fingers into everything. One last character, Del Dalveaux, is a detective working for that magnate, and Walter cleverly weaves him throughout the storyline.
The book is about conflict and the harder edge of life. Sullivan, the head of the police, is a major factor when it comes to knocking heads together and attempting to keep things from constantly boiling over and threatening the status quo, as the working man and the moneyed interests are battling. Though certainly not original, a question that really struck me in this book of magnates, socialists, communists, corruption, and idealists, was the following question. Is it enough to win the occasional battle, even if you cannot win the war? Social progress is always frustrating, but itâ€™s fundamental to what many of us aspire to be.
With this book, Walter has blended actual historical events and people with his novel, and itâ€™s a curious work. I donâ€™t mean the fictional side is shortchanged whatsoever, the novelâ€™s characters are completely fleshed out and very engaging as they struggle with their lives. Though Iâ€™ve always been drawn to stories of class warfare, I found myself split between the loves and losses of the main characters, and the history itself, but the ending was both very clever and stunning. Altogether, this novel wasnâ€™t as satisfying as his previous novel, Beautiful Ruins, was to me, but very few books are.
Review of the Harper Books hardcover edition (Oct. 2020)
The Cold Millions is an epic family saga that mostly takes place in the years 1909-1911 in Spokane, Washington State, USA. That time period may sound limiting for an 'epic', but there is a closing epilogue that takes it
The story centres around the brother duo of Gig and Ryan Dolan, two orphaned Irish immigrant sons on the tramp in the western United States. 24-year old elder brother Gig is bedeviled by his wandering ways and a predilection for alcohol. 16-year-old Ryan is protective of his brother and hopes to somehow make a life for them both. The brothers are swept up in the Spokane Free Speech Movement in November 1909 organized by the Industrial Workers of the World, also known by their nickname The Wobblies.
Author Jess Walter does an excellent job of incorporating the true-life story of the Wobblies in Washington and introduces several fictionalized real-life characters into the plot, with the teenaged worker organizer Elizabeth Gurley Flynn chief among them. Various fictional mining millionaires, police, wobblies, detectives and anarchists fill in the cast. There is a major plot twist about half-way through which turns things quite murderous and suspenseful.
I read The Cold Millions as part of a Book of the Month subscription to Parnassus Books First Editions Club. My continued thanks to Liisa, Martin and family for that excellent gift!
( I did love Jess Walter's Beautiful Ruins)
The Cold Millions tells this story through events that took place in Spokane, Washington in 1909. Ryan â€śRyeâ€ť Dolan leaves home at 16 to join his brother Gig, who has established himself as an eloquent speaker for the labor movement. The movement attracts support from national figures like Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, who went on to found the ACLU. The brothers are soon taking part in a protest. The police come down hard, partly out of vengeance for the recent murder of an officer, and Gig lands in prison. Elizabeth enlists a reluctant Rye in her cause, and at the same time Rye tries to curry favor with a wealthy businessman in hopes of securing Gigâ€™s release. He finds himself caught up in a complicated web of corruption, and struggles to determine whom he can trust. He loses some of his idealism and begins to question whether Elizabethâ€™s efforts will be successful, as well as his role in the unionization campaign.
This novel was chock full of surprising plot twists and memorable characters, with a denouement that neatly tied up the loose ends and an afterword describing the authorâ€™s research process and delineating fact from fiction. I enjoyed this and it piqued my interest in learning more about the history of this time and place.
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (a real historical person) is only 19, is pregnant, but is totally fearless in her attempts to organize and energize the workers. Ursula the Great is a vaudeville singer who performs with a live cougar. Both of these women become important in the lives of the two brothers.
Cold hearted killers, a wealthy businessman, and an old Indian are also important players in this interesting novel set in an area not usually the topic of historical fiction. A good read!