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The Waterworks by E. L. Doctorow

The Waterworks (1994)

by E. L. Doctorow

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Pretty good story line; very good writing ( )
  JosephKing6602 | May 2, 2017 |
The setting is New York City in 1871, and Boss Tweed is running everything in the corrupt city. When Martin Pemberton sees his supposedly-dead father riding in a carriage and then disappears himself, his friend and colleague, Mr. McIllvaine, is drawn into the mysterious search for both men.

Doctorow sets the plot going in quite a few different directions in this one, and it's not until the very end of the novel that he lets you know how all the threads tie together. While I appreciate the complexity of this, it causes the story to jump around so much that it was hard for me to stay interested. I've read half a dozen of Doctorow's novels now, and I've come to the realization that he and I just don't get along very well. He's not a bad writer by any means, he's just not my cup of tea. ( )
  AmandaL. | Jan 16, 2016 |
A short book, for Doctorow, that tries to resurrect 1872 New York City by presenting and solving a conventional, if slightly supernatural, mystery. It should have been compelling, but its relentlessly downbeat tone and affected style made it difficult to finish quickly or enjoy slowly. ( )
  john.cooper | Dec 26, 2015 |
An enjoyable book, a little mystery, a little philosophy, and a huge dose of atmosphere. 1870's NYC is a prominent character of the book. ( )
  snash | Aug 10, 2015 |
There's something magical about Doctorow's writing. The man truly seems to have been transplanted from Victorian New York City into the present just to spin his tales. This one is typically captivating, a really dark story of the power of wealth to forestall death . . . but with a terrible pricetag. ( )
  dickmanikowski | Apr 14, 2014 |
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People wouldn't take what Martin Pemberton said as literal truth, he was much too melodramatic or too tormented to speak plainly.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812978196, Paperback)

“An elegant page-turner of nineteenth-century detective fiction.”
–The Washington Post Book World

One rainy morning in 1871 in lower Manhattan, Martin Pemberton a freelance writer, sees in a passing stagecoach several elderly men, one of whom he recognizes as his supposedly dead and buried father. While trying to unravel the mystery, Pemberton disappears, sending McIlvaine, his employer, the editor of an evening paper, in pursuit of the truth behind his freelancer’s fate. Layer by layer, McIlvaine reveals a modern metropolis surging with primordial urges and sins, where the Tweed Ring operates the city for its own profit and a conspicuously self-satisfied nouveau-riche ignores the poverty and squalor that surrounds them. In E. L. Doctorow’s skilled hands, The Waterworks becomes, in the words of The New York Times, “a dark moral tale . . . an eloquently troubling evocation of our past.”

“Startling and spellbinding . . . The waters that lave the narrative all run to the great confluence, where the deepest issues of life and death are borne along on the swift, sure vessel of [Doctorow’s] poetic imagination.”
The New York Times Book Review

“Hypnotic . . . a dazzling romp, an extraordinary read, given strength and grace by the telling, by the poetic voice and controlled cynical lyricism of its streetwise and world-weary narrator.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer

“A gem of a novel, intimate as chamber music . . . a thriller guaranteed to leave readers with residual chills and shudders.”
Boston Sunday Herald

“Enthralling . . . a story of debauchery and redemption that is spellbinding from first page to last.”
Chicago Sun-Times

“An immense, extraordinary achievement.”
–San Francisco Chronicle

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:07 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

One rainy morning in 1871 young Martin Pemberton, walking down Broadway in lower Manhattan, sees in a passing horse-drawn omnibus several old men in black, one of whom he recognizes as his supposedly dead and buried father. So begins E. L. Doctorow's astounding new novel of post-Civil War New York, where maimed veterans beg in the streets, newsboys fight for their corners, the Tweed Ring operates the city for its own profit, and a conspicuously self-satisfied class of new wealth and weak intellect is all a glitter in a setting of mass misery. As Pemberton tries in vain to track the strange omnibus of old men, he leads us into a city we know and recognize and yet don't know, a ghost city that stands to contemporary New York like a panoramic negative print, reversed in its lights and shadows, its seasons turned round. The increasingly ominous tale is narrated by Pemberton's sometime employer, McIlvaine, the editor of the newspaper for which the young man writes occasional reviews. When Pemberton himself disappears, McIlvaine goes in pursuit of the truth of his freelance's bizarre fate. Layer by layer, he reveals to us a New York more deadly, more creative, more of a genius society than it is now. New technologies transport water to its reservoirs and gaslight to its streetlamps. Locomotives thunder down its streets. Telegraphy sings in its overhead wires, and its high-speed printing presses turn out tens of thousands of newspapers for a penny or two. It is a proudly, heedlessly modern city, and yet...the scene of ancient, primordial urges and transgressions, a companion city of our dreams...a moral hologram generated from this celebrated author's electrifying historical imagination. The Waterworks is a haunting tale of genius and madness in a metropolis that is itself a product of these qualities. Masterfully written and promising to be unforgettable, it is a triumphant addition to E. L. Doctorow's remarkable body of work.… (more)

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