Meyer Liberman had arrived in America in 1887, but we first met him in 1906 when it seemed he may be approaching the end of his story, for he has been arrested for killing the ex-governor of Idaho, a murder which led to one of the most celebrated trials of the period. The men questioning him want him to implicate Big Bill Haywood, leader of the IWW and the Western Federation of Miners. Wanting to save himself, he tells the detectives stories they want to hear. He also tells stories he wants us to hear. They are not always the same, but they are all true stories of the American West. His subsequent experiences, as he flees further west, pursued by Pinkerton detectives, provide a story of violence and class conflict found neither in the Wild West Show, nor in the dime novels. He finds himself increasingly entangled in an American West which is dangerously too real, and a fate which has led him to a cold prison cell and the threat of the gallows.
The Permanent Press
ISBN: 1-877946-67-2 (Hardback)
Ebook ASIN: B00KQ6PJ2W
Publishers Weekly, November 20, 1996
Though mute, Meyer Liebermann, the narrator of Albert's second novel (following Desert Blues), gives voice to a rip-roaring saga about the waning days of the Old West. In 1898, 11-year-old Meyer, on the run from his New York family, winds up hiding out as a stowaway with "Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and Congress of Rough Riders of the World." Through the next eight years and six aliases, Meyer wanders without much direction from one western adventure to the next, earning his keep as an errand boy and letter writer, plying his trade in saloons, mining camps and bordellos. From Buffalo Bill to Wobbly leader Big Bill Haywood, from bomber Harry Orchard to Pinkerton detective James McParland, the famous and the infamous somehow manage to track across the young man's path. From the showbusiness antics of Calamity Jane to the strike-breaking violence at the Colorado and Idaho coal mines, Meyer watches America changing from the freedom of the frontier to union-busting capitalism, corporate corruption and political skulduggery. The narrator finally ends up in prison, wrongfully charged as an accomplice to a political assassination, until matters are set aright through a rescue that most readers will greet with raised eyebrows. But that's okay, for as Meyer's mother once told him, "It is the story that matters, Meyer.. . not the details"-and this yarn is a keeper.
When we first meet Meyer Lieberman, he's sitting in an Idaho jail, accused of murder. Meyer, a mute, begins to write out his life story. It begins in New York in 1887 where, as the adopted son of a prosperous Jewish family, he consistently disappoints his parents. After running away from home, he is assaulted on the street and left mute by his assailants, only to be nursed back to health by the Indians of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Soon he's on the road with his new family, earning his keep by writing letters for Buffalo Bill. It's Meyer's penchant for writing stories that keeps him immersed in trouble and then extricates him from it. This is a western novel with the most unique protagonist one is ever likely to encounter. Meyer is funny, self-aware, courageous, compassionate, and in his own fashion, tough as nails. He survives a harsh land via his wits and his single skill - letter writing - which proves to be every bit as useful (and a hell of a lot more interesting) than a quick draw and a sharp aim. Western fans expecting standard six-gun justice" will be pleasantly surprised. -Wes Lukowsky
No matter what else one may say about the author of this novel. Bill Albert has certainly demonstrated substantial versatility with Castle Garden, his second book. In 1994, he published Desert Blues which was set in California in the mid-1950s and which featured a tangled set of human relationships. In that book, Enid Carison changed her name from Cohen, believing that her life as a cocktail waitress in Palm Springs would be easier if she hid her Jewishness. She takes charge of her 15-year old nephew when his parents are suddenly killed in an auto accident. In addition, her dying father suddenly appears after years of no contact. These unexpected additions to her household disturbed her arrangement with a St. Louis manufacturer who has set her up in a house so that she could receive him on his occasional trips to California. The unhinging of the love nest ends inconclusively but the novel enabled Albert to show clearly his sensitive appreciation for the complex nuances of human relationships.
While this capacity is equally manifest in Castle Garden, the setting and the characters are completely different. The story begins in New York in 1887 and ends in Colorado in 1906. The protagonist is Meyer Liebermann who was born at Castle Garden when the story opens. His mother, an immigrant from Eastern Europe, died in childbirth and lie was adopted by the Liebennanns, a wealthy Jewish family with a home overlooking Central Park. Meyer is addicted to "dime novels", especially to stories about the wild west that featured Buffalo Bill Cody. When Mrs. Liebermann refuses to take Meyer to Madison Square Garden to see Buffalo Bill's wild west show, he runs away from home. Unfortunately, before he gets very far, he is mugged and suffers an injury that causes him to lose his voice. Although he is only eleven years old at the time, he succeeds in hooking up with the wild west show where he is given menial tasks. He also discovers that his idol, Buffalo Bill, has feet of clay. In any case, he flees to the West, experiencing a series of harrowing adventures that are described in enormous -- and sometimes tedious -- detail
A crucial encounter relates Meyer to Big Bill Haywood at the time when he is the leader of the Western Federation of Miners in their Colorado strikes. This association eventually lands Meyer in prison where he is threatened with execution by hanging. The story of violence and class conflict is far removed from the theme of Albert's first novel, Desert Blues. However, in both books, Albert clearly conveys his grasp of the intricacies and complexities of the human plight, especially as it affects Jews.
Bill Albert was born in New York but grew up in California. He has lived in England since 1964 where he taught history at the university in Norwich. He is a talented writer with a keen comprehension of life's vicissitudes. The great divergence between his two books stamps him as an author of great creativity and imagination.
- Dr. Morton I. Teicher