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The World of Tomorrow by Brendan Mathews
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The World of Tomorrow

by Brendan Mathews

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The story starts with Scottish Sir Angus traveling from Great Britain to New York on the Britannic, first class, of course. With him is his grievously injured younger brother, Malcolm. The purpose of their trip is to seek medical care for Malcolm. His fellow travelers are very impressed with him, and plans are made to see him further after arrival in New York. The only problem is that he is Irish, his real name is Francis Dempsey, he is an escaped criminal (for selling French postcards and the like), and his money is stolen from an IRA safe house that he accidently blew up with their own explosives. He is on the run and doing it with style.

Michael (Malcolm) was caught in the explosion and has suffered hearing loss and a severe concussion. The only one he can hear now is the ghost of W.B. Yeats, who spends a lot of time with him.

Meanwhile, oldest brother Martin (he has no fake Scottish name) emigrated to the US years before and has been making a living (albeit a poor one) as a jazz musician. In the middle of preparing for his sister-in-law’s wedding, he is assembling an amazing jazz band that will cross color lines – something not yet done in 1939. He is also out of a job as a horn player, something which has upset his wife very badly. She’s taking care of two toddlers in a rundown apartment and wishing for something more than constant drudgery. So when Francis barges into their lives, with money and problems, she doesn’t know whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing- but it’s probably bad.

Nobody kills IRA operatives and steals their money and gets away with it, no matter how far they run. An Irish gangster in New York finds Francis and gives him an ultimatum: do what I ask- a job which will no doubt be fatal to Francis- or his family will all be killed. Oh, and Michael, unable to communicate, has wandered off.

It’s a big, sprawling, book with numerous narrative streams. The characters range from the very rich to the very poor. There are gangsters, people who want to be EX gangsters, royalty, extremely neurotic people, artists, and every other kind of person. I enjoyed the story, although sometimes I had trouble remembering the narrative stream of one character after reading about others for many pages. Part of the enjoyment I found was the descriptions of everything that was happening in NYC at the time: the World’s Fair, the receding Depression, the burgeoning jazz scene especially in Harlem- NYC was alive with change. Four and a half stars. ( )
  lauriebrown54 | Nov 26, 2017 |
OMG!!! The journey I have just been on. WHAT a GREAT story!!! I am typing this with tears in my eyes!

So many characters and so many stories. I was rooting for all the main ones.

A family of brothers whose father was involved in the IRA, a immigrant Jew from Prague with her visa about to expire just when Hitler’s regime had invaded and taken over the country and an African American couple, both very musically inclined and good at it, were dealing with racism and a country trying hard to invent the future during a World’s Fair. An absolutely mesmerizing story that enthralled me and definitely kept my attention.

I did a little something different with this book that I've never done before. I Googled images from 1939 of the Plaza, the World's Fair and street scenes. I can't tell you how much that added to my enjoyment of this book. It's something that I will definitely be doing in the future as sometimes, no fault of the author, I don't get the pictures they are describing.

Again, great read, thoroughly enjoyed!!!

Thanks to Little, Brown and Company and Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest, unbiased review. ( )
  debkrenzer | Oct 29, 2017 |
3.5

The World of Tomorrow recreates America in 1939, the year of the World's Fair in New York City. It was a time of progress, dreams, and optimism, hot jazz and The Lindy Hop.

It was also a time of world political unrest, racism, and anti-Semitism. Father Coughlin had a radio broadcast from The Shrine of the Little Flower in Metro Detroit, spewing anti-Semitism. Cab Calloway was playing in The Cotton Club to a white audience while black maids lined up on the street to be picked up for day jobs, hoping their employer didn't jilt them of their pay. Anti-lynching law petitions were circulating with little hope of impact.

There is talk about Roosevelt's "latest plans for the ruination of the country," taking from the rich to give to the undeserving poor "who still lined up for free soup and stale bread." The Fascism of Italy and Germany could be "exemplary," with business and government working together. Meanwhile in Europe, Hitler was taking over and Italy was embracing Fascism.

The mission of the World's Fair was to "showcase the abundance and industrial might of America's great corporations." Imagine a world with frozen food! A highway system and a car in every garage! And there was the promise of "Asbestos: The Miracle Mineral." But, the real draw at the fair was the Amusement Zone, and especially the Aquacade with women swimming in flesh-colored swimsuits so they appeared nude.

In Ireland, Francis Dempsey was serving a prison term for trafficking in banned books but is allowed to attend his father's funeral. Also at the funeral is his youngest brother Michael, released from the seminary he turned to after his true love married to solve her family's financial problems.

The boys are 'rescued', supplied with a car and a map to a remote cabin where IRA members make bombs. Francis accidentally sets off the explosives and is left with a shell-shocked Michael and the IRA's stash of money.

Frances comes up with a First-Class Pan: he assumes a false identity and with Michael they take a ship to America. On board he meets a wealthy New York City family whose daughter falls for his persona, the Scottish Lord Agnus MacFarquhar. Meantime, Michael's memory, speech, and hearing has failed, but the ghost of William Butler Yeats has become his new best friend.

The American gangster Gavigan, whose money Francis has stolen, rouses his retired henchman Cronin to tail Martin Dempsey, brother to Francis and Michael. Martin has been in America ten years, and has a wife and children. He is a musician in love with 'jungle' music. Gavigan believes that Francis deliberately killed his Irish contacts and stole his money. He wants revenge. Cronin is to bring Francis to him.

The Dempsey boys don't know that Cronin was mentored by the Dempsey patriarch, doing that which needed to be done for the IRA. Like cold blooded murder. He hated that Dempsey exploited his baser nature, which he has tried to overcome in his new life with Alice and her son, enjoying the simple life as a farmer. Gavigan threatens Alice's life if Cronin fails.

The set-up is long and perhaps overwritten. but it is full of color and vivid characters, and the writing clever with humorous insights. The story later heats up and drives to a heart-pounding and satisfying ending. I loved the Dempsey brothers.

The belief in an America as a place of fresh starts and miracles to come has become quite the nostalgic dream, or disdained hoax, to many Americans today. The novel takes us to a time when we still believed in a better tomorrow.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review. ( )
  nancyadair | Sep 6, 2017 |
There is so much promise in Brendan Mathews’ The World of Tomorrow. There is a madcap caper driven by Francis who knows how to jump at a chance, fleeing prison during his father’s funeral and taking advantage of an accidental explosion to pick up some cash and new identities for him and his brother Michael. With Michael, we get a hallucinatory dream story, conversations with the ghost of Yeats. They sail for New York to their brother Martin where there is this family story, a marriage challenged by the conflict between responsibility and vocation. Then there is a grim thriller featuring hitman Cronin whose seeking these brothers on behalf of an IRA boss who imagines a grand political assassination. Then there is a comedy of manners featuring the Binghams, revealing the travails of privilege and gossip and the marriage market. With Lilly, we have a glimpse of the rising horror of Nazism and the coming Holocaust. This is a sprawling novel and I can’t help thinking that Mathews could not make up his mind what kind of book he intended to write so he wrote a bit of everything.

The general outline of the story is two brothers fleeing prison and the seminary for a safe house that was already occupied by some IRA bombers of less than stellar accomplishment. They manage to blow themselves up, leaving one brother wounded and the other one alert to the main chance. Grabbing the bomber’s money they head off to New York where their older brother emigrated and where they hope to escape into new lives. They go top class, taking on the identities of Scottish noblemen. An IRA boss dispatches a killer to capture one of the brothers and then sees an opportunity for a terroristic coup at the World’s Fair. Meanwhile, several other things are happening and every character down to the inconsequential get their day, their life history, their hopes, and dreams, are all shared in great detail, even if they barely impinge on the main story.

Meanwhile, several other things are happening and every character down to the inconsequential get their day, their life history, their hopes, and dreams, are all shared in great detail, even if they barely impinge on the main story. Perhaps the most egregious example is the doctor, van Wooten, who has an entire chapter devoted to his frustrated life of medical servitude to the Binghams. He could not exist and the story would not change one whit.

Evaluating a book is always a matter of taste and some people like books that sprawl all over creation. It’s not that I demand books be linear, but I like to think what is in the book is necessary. The long introductions to characters feel like those writing seminar exercises in imagining a character, it’s all backstory and tedious. It is all telling, no showing. Completely realized, fully drawn characters with nothing to do but wait for their stories. But this was not van Wooten’s story and he could have stayed on his index cards. As could a lot of the details on other characters.

The writing varies from imaginative to prosaic. Eyes and gimlet and rituals are arcane. That is disappointing, but when he ventures into more imaginative writing, Mathews can be excellent and then he can be downright silly. I kind of like comparing the first note on the violin to a starter’s pistol in a musical steeplechase, but in the same scene, the writing descends to parody of low-rent romance with Anisette’s pupils contracting and dilating to the music. It was so overblown and florid, I laughed.

I wish I had liked The World of Tomorrow but I did not. I was about two-thirds through the book and considered giving up, but hoped that at least the thriller plot would redeem itself. It did not. It was as anticlimactic and silly as anything. And then, to wrap it all up, we are given a summary of who did what bringing us up to near the present day in the most ridiculous final chapter ever. And now, I have to stop this review, because the more I write, the more I am reminded of what I did not like.

The World of Tomorrow will be released September 5th. I received an advance e-galley from Little Brown, the publisher, through NetGalley.

The World of Tomorrow at Hachette Book Group for Little, Brown and Co.
Brendan Mathews faculty page

https://tonstantweaderreviews.wordpress.com/2017/08/31/9780316382199/ ( )
  Tonstant.Weader | Aug 31, 2017 |
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Fleeing Ireland for New York City after stealing a small fortune from the IRA, three brothers immerse themselves in the cultural and political tensions of 1939, only to find their lives falling apart when they are tracked down by a hired assassin.

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