The Big Town by Monte Schulz

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A Great Gatsby for the 21st century.

A novel of the Jazz Age, The Big Town is the story of a failed businessman whose dreams of prosperity hinge on the secret proposition of a millionaire industrialist and a dangerous relationship he finds with a poor orphan girl chasing love in the great American metropolis.

Harry Hennesey’s hopes of success, both in his household and the world, have driven him to sell his home in an Illinois small town and take his chances in the big city. He rents a room in a run-down hotel. He deals in wholesale items scavenged from yard sales and close-outs. One night at a movie theater downtown, he meets a teenage flapper named Pearl who latches onto him and won’t let go. For several years now, Harry has threatened his marriage and self-esteem with innumerable infidelities. Now he finds himself falling in love with a girl less than half his age. But that’s not all.

Charles A. Follette, chairman of the board of the American Prometheus Corporation, comes to him with a slick proposition: find Follette’s missing niece, and the road to riches shall be his. Soon, though, Harry discovers a darker secret to the identity of the missing niece and what lies behind the urgency for her detection. It’s this revelation that leads him to a closer examination of what it means to the life he’s known since the birth of his children and that life he believes awaits him if he can only reach the top of the ladder.

Harry’s story in The Big Town is set against a fantastic backdrop of an archetypal 1920s American big city. We see speakeasies, sanitariums, skyscrapers, and a glittering Gatsby-like party high atop the metropolis. Lost in his own moral confusions, we watch Harry try to reform his young lover and uncover the secret of her own past in a small canal town miles beyond a city where gangsters murder ordinary citizens and everyone seems to have a get-rich scheme as the Roaring ’20s come to a thunderous close. The Big Town evokes a lost era through language and flamboyant characters reminiscent of Fitzgerald, Dos Passos, Ring Lardner, etc. Yet it’s also eerily relevant to our own time with its study of the role of business, crime, morality, and love in our lives.


About Monte Schulz

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Monte Schulz received his M.A. in American Studies from UCSB. He published his first novel, Down By the River, in 1990, and spent the next twelve years writing a novel of the Jazz Age—This Side of Jordan. He wrote it for his father, the late cartoonist, Charles M. Schulz. It is followed by The Last Rose of Summer and a third book in the trilogy.
Published March 16, 2012 by Fantagraphics. 449 pages
Genres: History, Literature & Fiction. Fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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The warehouse’s owner, wealthy industrialist Charles Follette, will eventually evict Harry to make space for bootleggers, telling him “you’re a terrier among wolves.” And Harry has a distraction in Pearl, who flirts with him at a movie theater and won’t let him go.

Feb 08 2012 | Read Full Review of The Big Town

Publishers Weekly

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In the summer of 1929, when Harry’s local prospects have run dry, he sends his wife and children to stay with relatives, sells the family home, and uses the proceeds to rent office and warehouse space from a pillar of the community in “the city”—a fictional composite that feels distinctly...

Oct 31 2011 | Read Full Review of The Big Town

Historical Novel Society

Harry Hennesey is a down-on-his-luck salesman who must sell his house in small- town Illinois and move his wife and two children to East Texas to live with his mother while he attempts to rebuild the family’s finances by moving to the Big Town.

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