The waterworks /
E.L. Doctorow.
1st ed.
New York : Random House, c1994.
253 p.
0394587545 :
More Details
New York : Random House, c1994.
0394587545 :
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A Look Inside
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Library Journal on 1994-04-15:
Something's amiss with Martin Pemberton, renegade son of rich, unscrupulous Augustus Pemberton and favorite freelancer of the persevering editor of the New York Telegram, who narrates this tale. First, Martin claims to have seen his dead father on a horse-drawn omnibus, and then the son disappears. The worried editor contacts Inspector Edmund Donne-the only honest cop in 1870s New York, where the Tweed Ring holds sway-and eventually they discover that the ailing Augustus is part of an experiment by the brilliant Dr. Sartorius to prolong the lives of several old men rich enough to foot the bill. Cast as a mad scientist, Sartorius uses methods that prompt the narrator to mourn, ``I was haunted...not by ghosts, but by Science....I imagined that it all might be initiatory, a kind of spiritual test in a world ruled by God after all.'' The twist, of course, is that Sartorius's methods are commonplace medical procedures today. Doctorow wants us to think about issues of mortality and morality, and indeed this piece works better as a philosophical treatise than a novel. The points are neatly made, the characters well etched, and the plot hums along nicely, but it doesn't quite come alive. It's not the best Doctorow, but most libraries will still want this. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, 11/1/93.]-Barbara Hoffert, ``Library Journal'' (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 1994-04-11:
Each novel by Doctorow is an entirely different experience, a journey of the imagination into hitherto uncharted territory. The Waterworks , set in the corrupt but hideously exciting New York of the decade following the Civil War, is the strangest such journey yet. The narrator, an elderly newspaperman named McIlvaine, recalls the bizarre events surrounding the disappearance of one of his paper's best freelance writers in 1871. Martin Pemberton was the son of Augustus Pemberton, a brutal, cunning man who had made a fortune as a war profiteer, then died, leaving his family mysteriously penniless. Martin was convinced he had seen his father alive, in a coach in the company of other old men; then Martin vanished. McIlvaine interests the municipal police, in the person of odd, incorruptible Captain Edmund Donne, and together they ferret out a weird scheme in which aging millionaires have paid the brilliant, cold-blooded Dr. Sartorius to preserve their lives in a state of suspended animation. The tale has the brightly lit intensity and surreality of a dream, heightened by McIlvaine's halting, amazed narration; and such is the power of Doctorow's imagination that the very city itself, its burgeoning modernity, its huge machines, its febrile citizenry, seems to become a major actor in the drama. World's Fair and Billy Bathgate were both given a human dimension by their child's-eye point of view. Here Doctorow is taking a larger risk by placing the reader at a much greater distance from the events and subduing his contemporary sensibility in favor of a wonderfully convincing 19th-century angle of vision. It is as if Edgar Allan Poe and Henry James had somehow combined their incompatible geniuses to bring this profoundly haunting fable to life. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
This item was reviewed in:
Library Journal, January 1994
Booklist, April 1994
Kirkus Reviews, April 1994
Library Journal, April 1994
Publishers Weekly, April 1994
School Library Journal, January 1995
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Main Description
"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 ofThe 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 From the Trade Paperback edition.
Authored Title
A young freelance writer in post-Civil War New York City disappears after being disowned by his conniving father. Some overtones of Sherlock Holmes.

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