The Moments Lost
Olds (Bucking the Tiger, Raising Holy Hell), turns his stylish prose toward turbulent American Progressive Era history in The Moments Lost. He traces the life and times of Franklyn Shivs, a Wisconsin farm boy based loosely on reporter and activist Frank Shavs.
Leaving for Chicago with his mother and his lover’s blessings, young Franklyn works his way from newsboy through some hard drinking and the ranks of a right-leaning Chicago daily until he stumbles onto his big break—covering the horrific Iroquois Theater fire of 1900. The unnecessary tragedy that killed a matinee crowd of mostly women and children is told as Shivs witnesses it, in exact, graphic detail. Overnight, a struggling reporter who can’t write tight turns into a “crackerjack.”
Later, an excursion into riotous labor politics of 1913, featuring Big Bill Haywood and Mother Jones, puts Shivs on the scene of a violent strike. Love affairs, including one with activist Ana Clemec that leads to her pregnancy, entangle Shivs’ life with his work and politics and lead to the novel’s climax.
Olds’ character development suffers next to the intense sight, sound, and scent presentation of the events of the time. Part of this may lie in Shivs’ own dispassionate nature, the rest in the wild and dense way his author has with the English language. Always challenging, The Moments Lost is at times dazzling, but at other times Olds’ inventiveness and relentless irony gets in the way of opportunities for compelling storytelling.