Summary and book reviews of The World of Tomorrow by Brendan Mathews

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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  • Published:
    Sep 2017, 560 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl

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Book Summary

Three brothers caught up in a whirlwind week of love, blackmail, and betrayal culminating in an assassination plot, set in prewar New York.

June 1939. Francis Dempsey and his shell-shocked brother Michael are on an ocean liner from Ireland bound for their brother Martin's home in New York City, having stolen a small fortune from the IRA. During the week that follows, the lives of these three brothers collide spectacularly with big-band jazz musicians, a talented but fragile heiress, a Jewish street photographer facing a return to Nazi-occupied Prague, a vengeful mob boss, and the ghosts of their own family's revolutionary past.

When Tom Cronin, an erstwhile assassin forced into one last job, tracks the brothers down, their lives begin to fracture. Francis must surrender to blackmail, or have his family suffer fatal consequences. Michael, wandering alone, turns to Lilly Bloch, a heartsick artist, to recover his lost memory. And Martin and his wife, Rosemary, try to salvage their marriage and, ultimately, the lives of the other Dempseys.

From the smoky jazz joints of Harlem to the Plaza Hotel, from the garrets of artists in the Bowery to the shadowy warehouses of mobsters in Hell's Kitchen, Brendan Mathews brings prewar New York to vivid, pulsing life, while the sweeping and intricate storytelling of this remarkable debut reveals an America that blithely hoped it could avoid another catastrophic war and focus instead on the promise of the World's Fair: a peaceful, prosperous "World of Tomorrow."

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 ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The carefree confidence of late 1930s America is, of course, the height of dramatic irony, the height of dramatic irony, given that present-day readers know what happens next (and what was already happening overseas). Mathews's accomplishment with this novel is illustrating that confidence on both a macro and micro scale, offering readers a dynamic portrait of both a whole city and an intimate group of characters. The energetic storytelling, touches of humor, and ability to build suspense point towards a promising future for Mathews as a novelist interested in exploring ambitious ideas on a big canvas.   (Reviewed by Norah Piehl).

Full Review Members Only (588 words).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. With the wit of a '30s screwball comedy and the depth of a thoroughly researched historical novel, this one grabs the reader from the beginning to its suspenseful climax.

Library Journal

Starred Review. This novel should prove irresistible to anyone wanting a diverting read. It's quality stuff - and fun.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Mathews' debut shows impressive control of this narrative cornucopia, although his reliance on characters' thoughts to propel the plot can be tiresome. It's not Doctorow's Ragtime, but there's a similar feel in this impressive, wide-ranging debut.

Author Blurb Richard Russo, Pulitzer Prize-winning and New York Times bestselling author of Everybody's Fool
What a beguiling debut Brendan Mathews has given us in The World of Tomorrow: clever, smart, ambitious, richly textured, and moving.

Author Blurb Andrea Barrett, National Book Award-winning author of The Air We Breathe and Ship Fever
Brash, bold, completely entertaining, and dazzling in its evocation of time and place, Brendan Mathews's splendid debut offers pleasures on every page.

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Beyond the Book

The 1939 World's Fair

DemocracityThe events in Brendan Mathews's The World of Tomorrow lead up, appropriately enough, to the 1939 World's Fair held in what's now Flushing Meadows Park in the New York City borough of Queens. According to the official World's Fair publication, it would showcase "the tools with which the World of Tomorrow must be made."

Time CapsuleThe 1939 World's Fair was the second largest exposition in American history, led only by the 1904 St. Louis Exposition. As suggested by its marketing copy, the fair was focused on the future (it's no coincidence that its genesis occurred during the darkest days of the Great Depression), and was spearheaded by a committee that included city planner Robert Moses, New York mayor Fiorello La ...

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