By Steven Millhauser
An odd one this.
The novel follows the eponynmous Martin Dressler, from when he's a boy, helping out his father at a cigar shop to when he's a young man, pursuing an ambitious entrepreneurial path.
The story starts off fairly straightforwardly and with a direct, forward movement. After Martin is recruited to work as a nearby hotel, due to his dedication and hard-working nature, he soon finds himself moving up the career ladder. He also gets his first taste for entrepreneurial success, opening up a cigar shop in the hotel lobby. As he accrues success after success, there is a sense that this will be a story like Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead and in some ways, there are similarities between the two stories.
However, unlike the protagonist in The Fountainhead, Martin does go through spells of cluelessness and indecisiveness, particularly when dealing with women. Millhauser details these experiences in an off-kilter dreamlike way. For example, a sick hotel guest seduces Martin:
And Martin entered her fever-dream, at first awkwardly, then easily: it was all very easy, easy and mysterious, for he barely knew what was happening there in the dusk of the parlor, in a world at the edge of the world - Mrs. Hamilton's dream. The silk-smoothness of her skin surprised him, and under the skin was bone, lots of bone, skin stretched over bone, and then a sudden warm wet sinking and sinking, and somehow he was standing his uniform with an empty pitcher in his hand and Mrs. Hamilton was looking at him with wide-open eyes over which the lids came slowly down halfway. And she said, "Mind you don't catch a fever, Martin," and raised a forefinger that she waggled lightly. Then her eyelids closed decisively.Also, unlike The Fountainhead's simple unimpeded success story, this one ends with a more ambiguous tone, when it comes to unabashed ambition, both from a career standpoint and a personal life one.