By Thom Geier
November 08, 2002 at 05:00 AM EST

Paradise Alley

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On the eve of Scorsese’s Gangs of New York comes an engrossing epic that also culminates in the notoriously violent 1863 draft riots of Manhattan. Unlike the film, Baker’s sprawling saga (which follows 1999’s turn-of-the-century-set Dreamland in a planned trilogy on bygone New York) centers on three Irish women: Deirdre, a lace-curtain housewife whose husband is fighting in the Civil War; Ruth, who wed an escaped slave after fleeing the abusive clutches of Deirdre’s brother; and Maddy, a prostitute whose main patron is a reporter for Horace Greeley’s anti-Irish Tribune. Baker’s period detail can be both gripping and gruesome, as when he recounts a sidewalk lynching or the effects of the Irish potato famine. Fortunately, he lavishes the same painstaking attention on his characters, flawed players in a drama whose vast scope they only dimly imagine.

Paradise Alley

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