Excerpt from The World of Tomorrow by Brendan Mathews, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The World of Tomorrow

by Brendan Mathews

The World of Tomorrow by Brendan Mathews X
The World of Tomorrow by Brendan Mathews
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2017, 560 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2018, 560 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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Print Excerpt

At Sea

Francis never expected the silverware would be his undoing. Seated in the first-class dining room of the MV Britannic, halfway between the Old World and the New, he surveyed a landscape of crystal stemware and bone china, of crisp linen and centerpieces ripe with flowers he had never seen, in colors he had never dreamed. High above, the coffered ceiling glowed, its milk-glass panels outlined in brass. A frieze marched around the upper reaches of the room—an angular, art deco skirmish of horses, stags, and dogs. Every wall, even the air itself, was awash in hues of honey and amber, and at every table sat men and women gilded in good fortune and turned out in tuxedos, or gowns, or regimental dress. But what did all of this abundance matter when his own plate was blockaded by a medieval armory in miniature? He counted five forks, four spoons, and at least as many knives. He hadn't a clue where to begin.

Francis had hoped to take his lead from one of his tablemates: on one side, the Binghams, a mother and daughter returning to New York from their self-styled Grand Tour, and on the other, the Walters, a mismatched pair of marrieds from Philadelphia, accompanied by the wife's laconic, chain-smoking brother. Yet when the bowls of chilled broth—consommé, the menu called it—were placed in front of them, they all seemed to wait for Francis. Was that how it worked? The nobility dined first, and only then did the robber barons feast?

Easy enough. All he had to do was select the right spoon, and thereby prove his merit to the Americans, who were under the impression that he was a Scotsman, and a wealthy one at that, and perhaps even one with a castle overlooking a Highland loch. Before he was forced to choose, however, Mrs. Bingham resumed the conversation about the journeys that had led each of them to the Britannic.

"I'm curious to know, Sir Angus," she said, for Angus was the name Francis had given, though the Sir was entirely her own addition. "How did you find Ireland?"

"Oh, it was quite simple, really," he said. "I took the ferry from Liverpool. The boat knew just where to go."

Mrs. Bingham giggled, almost girlishly. Francis might have guessed that she was in her thirties, if not for her daughter, who looked to be about twenty. The missus insisted that he call her Delphine, and as for the miss, she was called Anisette. When Francis inquired about the Frenchness of their names, Mrs. Bing—strike that, Delphine—explained that she had been born and raised in Montreal, where the citizens spoke a purer form of the language than the pidgin bandied about in your average Paris café. As she told it, Quebec had acted as a safe haven where the French language endured without contamination by Continental dialects and the occasional trespass of Prussian troops. And hadn't the possible return of Prussians or Germans or whatever they were calling themselves these days been one motivation for their trip? It was only last year that Germany had anschlussed Austria, then chased it with a shot of the Sudetenland! Spurred by the fear that there would be no fall collections that year, they had ended four months of touring in a frenzy of Chanel and Schiaparelli.

"And if it all settles down?" Francis-as-Angus said.

"Can it ever be a mistake to visit Paris?" Mrs. B's eyes twinkled, and he saw how easily Mr. Bingham, whoever he was, must have fallen.

During Mrs. Bingham's recitation on family, fashion, and all things français, the Philadelphia trio had begun with their broth, and Francis tried to take note of which spoon they had chosen. He thought he was being clever, but as he caught the eye of the silk-sheathed Marion Walter, she stared back at him with feline hunger. His blood surged—a jolt from groin to gullet—and he looked away, only to meet a similar gaze from her brother, Alex, a small man neatly encased in a tuxedo. Horace Walter, much older and rounder than the others, was already clouded by his first two cocktails; he had eyes only for the next course. The Walters were returning from a trip through Italy and Germany, where they had taken part in a brisk tourist trade catering to Americans eager to see firsthand the proper way to run a modern nation. They had rendezvoused in Le Havre with Alex, whose itinerary had taken him through the seaside resorts of the Mediterranean. Apparently, there was a Mrs. Alex still on the Continent—something about friends in Biarritz who simply could not part with her until after some festival or other. He seemed unfazed by her whereabouts—his only mention of her was accompanied by a jet of cigarette smoke—but the Binghams tsk-tsked and fretted about how lonely he must be without her.

Excerpted from The World of Tomorrow by Francine Mathews. Copyright © 2017 by Francine Mathews. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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