In the 20th century, citizens of St. Louis discover that a parallel-universe effect exists, allowing them to periodically cross over to a different, more ideal city.
Von Schrader’s debut novel should especially captivate readers familiar with St. Louis, but even those unacquainted with the city will find this parallel-worlds yarn worth a visit. In 1929, during the stock market crash, Missouri financier James Whittemore Hines is contemplating suicide when he suddenly finds himself in an alternate St. Louis, with no economic malaise. World War I never happened either (apparently thanks to a benevolent Kaiser Wilhelm II) and nobody’s heard of Charles Lindbergh. Pragmatic Hines doesn’t question the phenomenon but uses his acumen to become part of the city’s infrastructure. When a devastating earthquake hits in 1931, Hines’ radical plan of citizen shareholder ownership of the wrecked city not only rebuilds St. Louis, but also tackles racism, jump-starts scientific development, and makes the place a radiant, world-class metropolis (though this town doesn’t have that landmark steel arch). Years later, in the original St. Louis of 2010, blighted and racially divided (but at least it’s got the Gateway Arch), Billy Boustany is the harried head of a failing chain of electronics/appliance stores. He accidentally crosses over into the other St. Louis (which he calls “HD St. Louis”) and is charmed by the eclectic markets, pedestrian-friendly streets, curious inventions, and upbeat ambiance. He revisits the alt-city again and again and finds the secret too good to keep to himself. Which is a problem, because, as the narrative divulges, an elite corps in “HD St. Louis,” the Knights of the Carnelian, polices the shifting boundaries between the worlds and strives to keep out intruders from the original city, characterizing them (understandably) as uncouth, racist, and generally detrimental. But even as villains, they are fairly soft-edged. While the plotline of von Schrader’s tale may remind SF readers of China Miéville’s The City & the City (2009), its heart is much closer to the soothing fantasies of Jack Finney (Time and Again; I Love Galesburg in the Springtime), with their nostalgic longing for bygone (or, in this case, alternate) eras and communities. Von Schrader’s prose is butter smooth, and the chronological jumps the narrative makes back and forth throughout history (in both universes) are never tangled or confusing.
An enjoyable, gentle fantasy that gives new meaning to the phrase “Spirit of St. Louis.”
(afterword, author bio)
Pub Date: today
Page Count: 384
Publisher: Weeping Willow Books
Review Posted Online: June 23, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020