Jim Moon is a dreamer. He signs up to fight for the Union because he dreams of war glory. He heads West because he dreams of the frontier. He marries a much younger woman because he dreams of romance. He leaves her and their infant son to seek the dream of the White City at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. There his dreams die. The buildings are hollow. The officials are corrupt. The innocent are chewed up and spit out.
Croft’s lyrical prose interweaves Moon’s story and that of his son, now a young adult. Moon’s story jumps back and forth through time, starting with Moon’s suicide off the Brooklyn Bridge. His son’s story begins when he receives his father’s tombstone, shaped like the tree of life, and follows traditional chronology. Through the warp and weft of these tales of the dreamer and his son, Barbara Croft weaves a spell of an age where innocence died.
Moon’s story is dark. He names his son after the artist Winslow. He carries Leaves of Grass through his travels. He recites “Song of Myself” as he jumps off the Brooklyn Bridge in despair. What does this mean? Croft concludes his story with a look at a photograph of Moon when he first arrived in Chicago. She says, “Moon looks left, a curious smile on his face, as though he is astonished–something has vanished. Or as though, perhaps, against all odds, he still expects something sublime to appear.” Which was it?
This is one of those books that left me unclear, when I closed the cover, what I was supposed to get out of it. While that is not a comfortable feeling, it is not all bad because it forces a reader to think. I’m still not sure I can answer that question. What is the truth between the dream and the reality? Is the dream foolish, naive because it does not match reality? Or do we need dreams to make our realities better? Do dreams make you mad or keep you going? Do we scorn the dreamer or admire him? I don’t know what Croft would say. I suspect she would ask what we think.