This novel reminded me of Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead" for two reasons. First, Martin Dressler becomes consumed with an idea of success and, as the title suggests, an American dream, at the expense of all else in his life. He forgoes a meaningful marriage for the sake of a hotel; which leads me to the second point reminescent of Rand: architecture.
Dressler becomes interested in creating a architectural masterpiece of essentially everything he touches. I'll say that the features of the hotel he ends up building are far from ordinary and possibly the most creative I've ever heard of.
This is a beautiful novel of obsession and consumption of an idea; and most importantly, the reprecussions of what that obsession can do to an individual's life.
I was fascinated by this book, and am still not sure how I feel about it.
Martin's dreams and the businesses he builds from them are so much more real to him than the people that make them possible. On the other hand, he is a consummate discoverer and manager of people who can make his dreams come true--the ones he chooses to make his businesses a success. However, he only seems to listen to a few people and allow them into his life. All the others he relates to only as employer, order-giver, customer -- and a few other narrowly limited relationships. He controls every minute detail of his businesses. Paradoxically his personal life just seems to "happen" to him, as a drifting or dream-state, in which he takes no initiative.
The descriptive details are marvelous, helping me see, hear, feel, smell, and almost touch this bursting-through period in our history.
Kind of a weird story about Martin who becomes this hotel/funhouse creator. He has this strange relationship with these 2 sisters and their mom; marries one of the sisters (the pretty one, of course) while the other one works for him and he's really more intimate with her because they talk everyday. I never really get Martin or his motivations- maybe it's a little too deep for me or something. But it's an interesting look at when New York was first becoming a big city, Martin is able to foresee the great city it will become with skyscrapers and huge hotels.
Pulitzer Prize? This guy is no Dresler or Sinclair Lewis. The one redeeming value of this novel is in its picture of New York City in the late 1800s as the city propels itself towards the 20th century. This book definitely needs an editor! If I read one more paragraph that begins "One day...", One week...", One hour...", "One month...", "One anything, I think I'll pu....... Hraaaaaaaagh! There I did it. Who sits on these panels anyway?
As dry and as out of step with contemporary literature as Aesop's Fables, I have a very hard time discerning why Martin Dressler won the Pulitzer Prize. Character development practically does not exist, though there are many moments of insightful description and incisive comment on a given scene. If the point was to demonstrate what lack of education does to a man, then the book does so in spades. It's flat, boring, predictable; terms that high school composition teachers might level at beginning student efforts. I cannot find it in heart or mind to recommend this novel to stand anywhere close great literature of the late 20th century.