Summary and book reviews of The Deadwood Beetle by Mylene Dressler

The Deadwood Beetle

By Mylene Dressler

The Deadwood Beetle
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    Readers' Opinion:

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  • Hardcover: Sep 2001,
    240 pages.
    Paperback: Aug 2002,
    242 pages.

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Book Summary

Tristan Martens, a retired entomologist, is shaken by the discovery of his mother's sewing table in a New York antique shop. He hasn't seen it since he was a boy in Holland, but he vividly remembers the last time he did. Only Tristan knows the painful truth behind the scrawled--and misunderstood--inscription on the bottom of the table, and he embarks on a scheme to acquire it from the shop owner, Cora Lowenstein, who insists it's not for sale.

But as their lives become entangled, Tristan must make a choice. Can he tell Cora the truth? Begun in deceit, their relationship and Tristan's salvation hinge on his willingness to confront and finally confess the terrible secrets of his family's past.

In startlingly beautiful prose resonant with dramatic tension, Mylene Dressler tells the heartrending story of an old man taking his last chance and struggling toward an elusive redemption and the even more distant hope of love. The Deadwood Beetle is a brilliant novel by a writer whose work the critics have called "lyrical" and "haunting."

Chapter 1

When I first found my mother's battered little sewing table--or rather, first asked the silver-haired woman who managed the antiques store, or rather that section of the tenth floor with its expensive, museum-quality French Provincials, near the back of a building on West Twenty-fifth Street, in a room lit by pools of halogen light, what exactly the homely little table was, and what on earth it was doing there, tucked in among all the grand buffets and elegant secrétaires--I was careful to keep my damp hands very still, and to look down puzzled and unrecognizing at it, blinking from under my homburg, to make clear I was stunned only that she would have anything so ordinary, so obviously anachronistic and anonymous and crude and utterly out of keeping with the rest of her very fine and select trade.

I had just come up out of the street from one of my walks. I'd only wanted to get out of the sun for a moment, to shift the weight in my canvas grocery bag, ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Introduction

Set in contemporary New York, with flashbacks to Nazi-occupied Holland, The Deadwood Beetle is the heartrending story of an old man taking his last chance and struggling toward an elusive redemption and the even more distant hope of love. In pitch-perfect and elegant prose, Dressler weaves a moving story about WWII and its aftermath that is truly different from any other, telling a deeply compassionate story about crippling guilt and the enduring, and very human, hope for love and forgiveness.


Discussion Questions

  1. Loss ripples through this novel. How, in the end, does loss create its opposite?
  2. History has a force all its own in this novel. Would you say Tristan has free will or is he trapped...

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Reviews

Media Reviews
The Austin American-Statesman

...elegant and ambitious....Dressler...explores the damages of hearts left untended and secrets left untold....a big achievement.

The Bloomsbury Review

A compelling read from start to finish, the prose shimmers...[an] elegantly polished novel...

The Baltimore Sun

Written with a kind of menacing grace, The Deadwood Beetle compels the reader down the converging lines of Marten's growing love for Lowenstein and the truth of his past to their inevitable collision.

Bullymag.com

...nearly perfect...impressive.

The Christian Science Monitor

Haunting...its execution is perfect....Dressler is a writer of chilling compression and suspense....a beautiful, sensitive story....

The Austin Chronicle

A work of sure-handed contemporary wonder, a graceful fiction...[Dressler's] portrayal of Tristan...recalls Martha Cooley's feats in her restrained but remarkable The Archivist.

Publishers Weekly

European world-weariness mingles with American optimism in this accomplished novel, dense with the scrap material of the past.

Library Journal

Finely crafted.

Author Blurb Susan Vreeland, author of Girl in Hyacinth Blue
absorbing . . . compelling, and inventive.

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