The Cold Millions by Jess Walter

The Dolan brother’s young lives were very hard. They were dirt poor and had no family left by the time they were in their teens. Gig, the older brother and Rye (Ryan) were hopping trains looking for work and a place to stay and a way to make money fast, legally or not. But this was during the early 1900’s and work was hard to find as was lodging. Gig felt responsible for his younger brother and tried to steer him on the right path.

But both had visions of making money and owning land and a house. They were always looking for jobs which would pay more, but this was a time when unions were just being organized and business owners were not very happy. Unfortunately many higher ups in the police department were on the payroll of rich business owners who would look the other way when union meetings were interrupted and brawls broke out.

But Gig believed in fair wage and was not afraid to fight for the cause. But when pro-union men took it upon themselves to take to the streets to talk about the cause, they were not only arrested, but were put into horrendous prison conditions where some died. Gig was arrested as was Rye who only sixteen followed his unknowing brother and spoke for the cause. This pivotal moment changes both their lives and the paths they will take forever.

Rye is soon released from prison and begins to assist the cause by going around to workers with a young pregnant woman who is a feminist and has been traveling to help collect money to hire a lawyer for all the men still in prisons. His brother was not so lucky. With Gig still in prison, Rye must decide if he wants to stay on the straight and narrow path they both have always believed in or forgo his principles and work for a powerful, shady business owner. A man who has no problem killing for what he wants.

Rye’s conscience and Gig’s inability to forgive himself for not taking care of his younger brother will haunt both of them for the rest of their lives. But trying to hold on to their beliefs and values will involve much effort, perhaps too much.

The Cold Millions is a heartbreaking tender story about two brothers who try to hold on to each other even as their lives become lost to both themselves and each other during a difficult time in our history.

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