Summary and book reviews of The Magnificent Esme Wells by Adrienne Sharp

The Magnificent Esme Wells

by Adrienne Sharp

The Magnificent Esme Wells by Adrienne Sharp X
The Magnificent Esme Wells by Adrienne Sharp
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Apr 2018, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 9, 2019, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Grace Symes

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About this Book

Book Summary

From the nationally bestselling author of The True Memoirs of Little K, a deeply felt and historically detailed novel of family, loss, and love, told by an irrepressible young girl - the daughter of a two-bit gangster and a movie showgirl - growing up in golden-age Hollywood and Las Vegas in its early days.

Esme Silver has always taken care of her charming ne'er-do-well father, Ike Silver, a small-time crook with dreams of making it big with Bugsy Siegel. Devoted to her daddy, Esme is often his "date" at the racetrack, where she amiably fetches the hot dogs while keeping an eye to the ground for any cast-off tickets that may be winners.

In awe of her mother, Dina Wells, Esme is more than happy to be the foil who gets the beautiful Dina into meetings and screen tests with some of Hollywood's greats. When Ike gets an opportunity to move to Vegas - and, in what could at last be his big break, to help the man she knows as "Benny" open the Flamingo Hotel - life takes an unexpected turn for Esme. A stunner like her mother, the young girl catches the attention of Nate Stein, one of the Strip's most powerful men.

Narrated by the twenty-year-old Esme, The Magnificent Esme Wells moves between pre–WWII Hollywood and postwar Las Vegas - a golden age when Jewish gangsters and movie moguls were often indistinguishable in looks and behavior. Esme's voice - sharp, observant, and with a quiet, mordant wit - chronicles the rise and fall and further fall of her complicated parents, as well as her own painful reckoning with love and life. A coming-of-age story with a tinge of noir, and a tale that illuminates the promise and perils of the American dream and its dreamers, The Magnificent Esme Wells is immersive, moving, and compelling.

Las Vegas
1945
1

MY FATHER AND I first drove out to Vegas with Benny Siegel in late summer, 1945, all three of us covered with fine brown sand by the time we got there. We shook it from our clothes and our hair and swept it from the seats, the floor, even the dashboard of Mr. Siegel's little red coupe convertible. And when we were done sweeping, Mr. Siegel offered me his hand with his manicured nails to help me out of the cramped little backseat where no one but a child could possibly fit, his face jubilant and eager, as if he were about to show us some great prize. I jumped from the car, all excited, only to gaze with my father and Benny at the blank acres that held the ruins of some old motel where the Flamingo Club and hotel would soon be built.

That was the prize. The unformed future.

The landscape was otherwise empty, except for the carcass of a prairie dog, a collapsed bundle of dull fur and bones. I looked around for something else to focus on and when I found it, I ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. What particular version of the American Dream is suggested by young Hollywood or Las Vegas?
  2. What's relevant and important about the historic time in which the novel is set?
  3. Consider Esme's parents, Ike Silver and Dina Wells. What is each of them like? What's the nature of their relationship? What draws them to or repels them from each other?
  4. In what ways are Ike and Dina good parents or not? How does the world they create for Esme affect her as she grows up? What are Esme's biggest challenges as a girl?
  5. At 16, Esme realizes that "the transition from girlhood to womanhood turned on a pivot. One day you were a child and then, all at once, you weren't." What was the determining moment for her? In what ways is ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The Magnificent Esme Wells is a twisted take on the American dream, laying bare Esme's struggle to achieve her dream without losing her innocence along the way. Written in a straightforward, earnest style this novel for adults will also be accessible to teen audiences. It gives us a close-up view of a driven and ambitious girl finding her own way in the world, and discovering what she wants and just how much she is willing to give up to get it.   (Reviewed by Grace Symes).

Full Review Members Only (687 words).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Sharp's narrative is a bold and gritty portrayal of unreachable dreams, anchored by its notable depiction of Esme.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. This glittering noirish tragedy, with its lushly imagined period landscape and subtle feminist trajectory, is both fun to read and sad to think about.

Booklist
Starred Review. With real-life figures, mushroom clouds rising from desert test sites, and arresting insights into the power and vulnerability of a daring woman performer, Sharp's novel, like Jennifer Egan's Manhattan Beach, is propulsive and profound.

Author Blurb Janet Fitch, New York Times bestselling author of White Oleander
Adrienne Sharp brilliantly recreates the tawdry magic of twin dream machines, studio-era Hollywood and early Las Vegas, in this tale of ... the scrappy, precocious Esme Wells, her go-for-broke parents, and the toll these dreams took on their dreamers.

Author Blurb Rosellen Brown, author of Before and After

How Esme keeps her head, if not her innocence, among these fast-living, fast-dying Vegas and Hollywood stars makes Adrienne Sharp's novel fascinating and rich with secrets she tells with wit and gusto.

Author Blurb Ayelet Waldman, author of Love and Treasure
This lovely novel, alternately dark and funny, is a powerful examination of both the nature of love and the will to survive.

Author Blurb Ann Hood, author of The Book That Matters Most and The Knitting Circle

Consider it your good luck to join Esme Wells as she comes of age with the glamour, gangsters, and big dreams of Hollywood and Las Vegas of the 30s and 40s. Like its narrator, this novel is magnificent.

Author Blurb Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You and Cruel Beautiful World
Violent and voluptuous; heartbreaking and profound, The Magnificent Esme Wells is about the losses we endure, and the love we keep betting on, despite the odds. Truly, a showstopper.

Author Blurb Jennifer Gilmore, New York Timesbestselling author of Golden Country and The Mothers
Adrienne Sharp sure can WRITE! And her newest novel, The Magnificent Esme Wells, does all the best things: it transports, amuses, delights and heartbreaks. What a gem of a book.

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Beyond the Book

The Flamingo Hotel

The Flamingo Hotel, opened by Bugsy Siegel in 1946, where Esme spends her teenage years, was the third gambling establishment to open on the Strip. It is now Las Vegas' oldest hotel.

The Flamingo HotelThe hotel had been the brainchild of Billy Wilkerson, who envisioned a European-style hotel and casino, a far cry from the rustic, western-themed establishments that were already present in Vegas. After running into budget problems, Wilkerson accepted one million dollars from a group of New York gangsters headed by Meyer Lansky, and granted them control over two-thirds of the casino.

At this point, Lansky appointed Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel to run the hotel for him and to make him a profit. So Siegel began supervising the construction of the casino.

...

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