Dream City

Comic strips, the 1933 World’s Fair, gangsters, and book collecting are thrown into the stew pot in Brendan Short?s first novel, Dream City. Faintly echoing Michael Chabon?s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Short traces the arc of one comic fanboy?s life from Depression-era Chicago to the present day. As a child, Michael Halligan is an avid reader of Big Little Books –chunky, palm-sized dime novels that hit their peak 70 years ago. With titles like Flash Gordon on the Planet Mongo, Chester Gump at Silver Creek Ranch, and G-Man on the Crime Trail, the Big Little Books offer avenues of escape from Michael?s hard-knock life as the son of a numbers runner and an adulterous mother. As he grows, Michael tries to recapture his youth by collecting all of the Big Little series, including a rare edition given to him by none other than Buck Rogers at the World?s Fair. Diehard bibliophiles will be turned on by the book porn in Dream City, as when Michael states that his Big Littles with their “sturdy, vibrant spines” helped him to “forget himself and his life, at least for a while, and that just being in the same room with his collection made the world seem understandable and orderly.” Just as Michael is immersed in fantasy worlds where good and evil are sharply delineated, Short attempts to paint a panoramic mural of 20th-century America and shows we’ve been in steady moral decay since the days of Buck Rogers and the Lone Ranger.