Tag Archives: Prohibition – fiction

When Embellishment becomes Enlightenment | Review of “Men Walking on Water” by Emily Schultz (2017) Alfred A. Knopf Canada

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‘Embellishment’ is not totally the nasty term that it is stereotypically made out to be. When a talented writer adds bits and pieces to historical facts in a well-crafted fashion, a great story is born. Then, if that writer adds a few interesting characters and some perfect dialog, that story turns into a great read. That is what proper ’embellishment’ does and that is exactly what Emily Schultz has done with her book Men Walking on Water.

Page 3

The man who connected them wasn’t a man anymore, but a body, hidden deep beneath the green ice of the Detroit River. The group of rumrunners huddled on the shore, consulting on what had just happened. All knew the doors of the old Ford had been removed for ease of exit in exactly this circumstance, yet apparently Alfred Moss still sat inside. The Doctor claimed to have seen the car go under and no one had seen the driver since.

Moss was dead: to begin with. “There is no doubt whatever about that,” the Doctor said.

For many of us who grew up in either Michigan or Ontario, we have heard certain long tales over and over agin. Yes, there was a prohibition of sale of alcohol at one point and the there was a flurry of all sorts of colourful characters who dealt in the distribution and selling of ‘booze.’ But Schultz has added a bit of flavour to those stories here. We start out with the story of a man and a loaded car filled with illegal whiskey and money crashing through the ice of a river. Out of that incident, a cast of characters emerge that are drastically affected by incident.

Pages 30-31

There was a light on in the back, and although the drive was empty, a blue Packard parked on the street two doors over let Ernest Krim know what he would find: Elsie Moss was awake, but not alone. Moss had intimated as much – several times, in colorful language – but Krim hated to believe the worst of anyone, especially, a woman.

It was nearly three thirty. He approached the house slowly. The first lie had been harder than Krim had imagined. All eyes had been on him – Bunterbart’s and Zuckerwitz’s and Samuel’s and Bob Murphy’s as well as the others’. They all took it more personally than he’d anticipated, but especially the boy, Willie Lynch, who looked as though someone had put a shot right through his gut. Krim couldn’t recall the last time he’d lied – maybe during the war to his officer, or to his mother – but he hadn’t remembered it being so damn hard. The words had felt like little stones on his tongue. Three thousand, Moss had promised him, and he’d wire it. the idea of money moving like electricity made it seem hot and unreal, something only a fool would touch. Krim realized he should have asked for cash, that a part of him had hoped to find Moss at the train station for that reason. He ought to have haggled for five, or even the full ten Moss said he was taking. But he was a friend.

This book is an epic written in 1920s jargon. We slide in and out of characters’ thoughts and emotions while witnessing their actions with ease. Schultz does a great job of showing the duality of the nature of the character at times. We get a true understanding of a character’s intent even if their spoken words and actions appear sincere.

Page 68

“He must like you, reverend,” Elsie said, her tone more defeated than pleased, though she straightened up inside her coat and held the baby out to show a certain amount of pride.

It had been a long time since they’d seen each other. Prangley noticed Elsie’s face growing pink. Her hand inched up to check her hair and push the gold curls around. The reverend smiled, the divot in his upper lip pressing in, deepening into a flat gray dime shape. He could see she was recalling how she’d thrown herself at him, years ago. A floozy who’d turned afraid at the last minute – he couldn’t think of a worse type. She would do fine without her husband; he’d wager hard cash on the fact that she would find another within the year. Prangley reached out and poked at the baby’s blankets, feigning interest. the tiny boy caught his finger in its fist.

“What’s his name? Are you here to arrange the christening?” Prangley knew better than to glance at Elsie. Lies were easy to discern in a gaze but difficult to catch from the tone of voice. “Yeeesss, yeeesss,” he cooed at the homely thing. Its face was wrinkled and red as coral. “You’re a strong boy, aren’t you? Nice and strong.”

Emily Schultz has embellished strong elements into a history lesson with her book Men Walking on Water. Not only do readers get true understanding of the period but an glimpse into the natures of people. A true work of literature.

*****

Link to Penguin Random House Canada’s website for Men Walking on Water

Link to Emily Schultz’s website

Link to my Q&A with Emily Schultz – “It’s funny how families sometimes repress their best tales. From there, I began to spin a yarn about a rumrunner.”