Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau

1. First lines. 2. Published 2020 Lume Books 3. Surf Avenue at Night By Harley Flowers [CC BY-SA 2.0] via flickr No changes made. 4. Poster for the 1916 film “A Coney Island Princess” [Public Domain] via Wikimedia
Very unlikeable characters, but a fascinating setting.

Peggy Batternberg, the main character in this book, belongs to a rich socialite family of New York. She goes with her extended family to the Oriental Hotel near Coney Island to spend the summer of 1911. She resists her family’s control, and takes every opportunity to break free. She goes to the amusement parks of Coney Island, and falls for a penniless artist called Stefan. Complications occur when police suspect Stefan of murdering three women found in the vicinity, and Peggy is determined to clear his name.

…there is one thing I do know. Women of my family, and all others like us, cannot behave the same as men do.

“Everything is real on Coney Island – and nothing is real.”

~Quotes from “Dreamland” by Nancy Bilyeau
  • Publishers Weekly: “Peggy is naive and far from perfect, but her heart is in the right place, and one can’t help feeling for her predicament. This fascinating portrait of the end of the Gilded Age deserves a wide audience.”

Author: Nancy Bilyeau

Historical note: In the late 19th century, Coney Island was home to the amusement parks: Lunar Park, Dreamland and Steeplechase Park. The area, with three luxury hotels, (Manhattan Beach Hotel, Brighton Beach Hotel and the Oriental Hotel), was popular as a beachside destination, and it drew massive crowds in the summertime. Attractions at Coney Island parks included elephant rides, carousels and a variety of other rides, side-show exhibits including a “Lilliputian Village” with three hundred dwarf inhabitants, a display of baby incubators, where premature babies were cared for and exhibited, and “freak shows” (both human and animal).

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