City of Promise: A Novel of New York’s Gilded Age
The American Civil War is ending, and Confederate prisoner Joshua Turner returns to New York, minus a leg but filled with ambition. Solving the increasing housing crisis for upper middle-class New Yorkers on the limited space of Manhattan demands a solution in between the unaffordable rich mansions and the “immigrant rookeries” of the poor. “Building upward” was the only solution, changing the New York skyline forever. The French flat, where each floor housed one family, is an idea that will take genius and money, which Joshua Turner possesses, and the making of steel using a different method.
His new wife, Molly Brannigan, niece of a shrewd and successful brothel owner, shares Joshua’s dreams with enthusiasm. They met by chance at Macy’s, when Mollie devised a discreet sartorial solution to Joshua’s empty trouser leg. Her cleverness and impetuous nature will sometimes help, but often hinder their marital relationship. As Joshua hires experienced workers – dwarves who do not succumb to the circus sideshows – to help his business get off the ground, he learns that he and they have enemies who want his dreams to fail.
Beverly Swerling knows how to make the everyday lives and social changes of a city page-turning reading. Her characters are rich and well-drawn. The atmosphere, sights, and sounds of a burgeoning New York City envelop the reader throughout this rich story of one couple’s dreams and the radiating effect they have on a teeming city and, conversely, the city’s effect on them. The new and overpowering Brooklyn Bridge plays a part, despite being built over one neighborhood which will be forever in the gloom of its shadow. Highly recommended.