Houdini was a headliner in the top vaudeville circuits. His audiences were poor people— carriers, peddlers, policemen, children. His life was absurd. He went all over the world accepting all kinds of bondage and escaping. He was roped to a chair. He escaped. He was chained to a ladder. He was handcuffed, his legs were put in irons, he was tied up in a strait jacket and put in a locked cabinet. He escaped. He escaped from bank vaults, nailed-up barrels, sewn mailbags; he escaped from a zinc-lined Knabe piano case, a giant football, a galvanized iron boiler, a rolltop desk, a sausage skin. His escapes were mystifying because he never damaged or appeared to unlock what he escaped from. The screen was pulled away and there he stood disheveled but triumphant beside the inviolate container that was supposed to have contained him. He waved to the crowd. He escaped from a sealed milk can filled with water. He escaped from a Siberian exile van. From a Chinese torture crucifix. From a Hamburg penitentiary. From an English prison ship. From a Boston jail... Today, [more than eighty years since his death,] the audience for escapes is even larger.
“One of the best ten books of the decade!”
“A unique and beautiful work of art about American destiny, built of fact and logical fantasy, governed by music heard and sensed, responsive to cinema, shaken by a continental pulse... written exquisitely... Doctorow has added a grace to our history.”
“An extraordinary deft, lyrical, rich novel that catches the spirit of the country... In a fluid musical way that is as original as it is satisfying.”
—The New Yorker
“As exhilarating as a deep breath of oxygen... a remarkable achievement... Doctorow has found a fresh way to orchestrate the themes of America innocence, energy, and ambition.”
“An extraordinary fictional tapestry... Once in there’s no possible way out expect through the last page.”
—The New Republic