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Heyday by Kurt Andersen
Heyday is set in 1848, a time when technology and history were both leaping forward. British gentleman Benjamin Knowles travels to Paris, where the chaos of the revolution threatens to envelop him, and then to New York City. He's always been fascinated by all things American, and falls in with a group of new friends there. There's Timothy Skaggs, muckraking journalist and daguerreotypist, fireman Duff Lucking who is a scarred veteran of the Mexican-American War, and his sister (and part-time prostitute) Polly Lucking. Benjamin falls for Polly and the quartet sets out across the American continent for the gold rush in California, experiencing and observing a changing country on their transcontinental trip. They are unaware, though, of the Frenchman on their trail, vowing revenge for Benjamin's alleged actions back in Paris. Kurt Andersen's novel has received mostly positive reviews with the Rocky Mountain News saying, "That old advice to 'Go west, young man,' has rarely been followed with such verve. Manifest Destiny may be a questionable political doctrine, but it drives forward a superb work of fiction here."