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“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, “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 From the Trade Paperback edition.


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“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, “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 From the Trade Paperback edition.

30 review for The Waterworks: Limited Edition

  1. 5 out of 5

    William2

    A moody, elegant thriller, beautifully paced. A retired New York City newspaper editor writing after the turn of the century recounts the tale of what happened when his talented freelance writer, Martin Pemberton, went missing in the 1871. This was before the city had grown much above present-day 72nd Street. Martin believes, and others agree, that he may be losing his mind. He has twice recently seen his father, dead these last two years, being driven through town in a sepulchrally white omnibu A moody, elegant thriller, beautifully paced. A retired New York City newspaper editor writing after the turn of the century recounts the tale of what happened when his talented freelance writer, Martin Pemberton, went missing in the 1871. This was before the city had grown much above present-day 72nd Street. Martin believes, and others agree, that he may be losing his mind. He has twice recently seen his father, dead these last two years, being driven through town in a sepulchrally white omnibus. Martin is editor/narrator McIlvaine's best writer and when he disappears McIlvaine goes looking for him. New York is not depicted at its best. It is in fact a horribly corrupt and violent town. (For background see Luc Sante's Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York and Herbert Asbury's The Gangs of New York.) U.S. Congressman and later NY State senator Boss Tweed runs a patronage mill called "the Ring" and virtually every municipal office is up for sale. Except for the Christian charities there are no organized social services to speak of. Child labor is rife. Streetwalkers fight over turf. Con men are a public nuisance not reigned in by the unscrupulous police department. The Lower East Side is known for its flourishing opium dens. Everyone, in short, is on the take. In the midst of this mayhem the city evinces a vibrant commercial sector, which is hardly squeaky clean itself. Martin's late father, Augustus, was perhaps its major figure. After Martin vanishes we learn that after Augustus died his vast fortune disappeared too. Hmm. And not only that, but the old man's widow is now living in penury with her son, dependent on the kindness of relatives. That's the tease. I won't reveal more. Needless to say, this is a beach or inflight read of a very high order, and perfect source material for Martin Scorsese.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Pat

    This would've been a great novel... absorbing and thoughtful and a surprising sci-fi twist... if Doctorow had been able to control his use of ellipses (elippsises?). You couldn't read three sentences... without running into at least one triad of dots... and they were... thrown... in seemingly at... random. Not only that, but every character seemed... equally to be afflicted with ... ellipsosis. What seemed at first to be an... interesting and effective means of... emphasis... quickly became prof This would've been a great novel... absorbing and thoughtful and a surprising sci-fi twist... if Doctorow had been able to control his use of ellipses (elippsises?). You couldn't read three sentences... without running into at least one triad of dots... and they were... thrown... in seemingly at... random. Not only that, but every character seemed... equally to be afflicted with ... ellipsosis. What seemed at first to be an... interesting and effective means of... emphasis... quickly became profoundly distracting. So... for three dots... I give three... stars. Had there been fewer of the former, I'd've given... more... of the latter.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Richard Derus

    Book Circle Reads 21 Rating: 3.5* of five The Book 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 th Book Circle Reads 21 Rating: 3.5* of five The Book 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 of The New York Times, “a dark moral tale . . . an eloquently troubling evocation of our past.” My Review: Mel-O-Drama!! The novel is set in 1871, and like any good sudser pits one lone man against a system of evildoers and manipulators. Adding to the pleasures are steampunky elements like technology out of its time, a villainous doctor aiming to create immortal men, and double-super-secret hidden bases that are in plain sight. When I read this for my book circle, I was taken with the plot and somewhat flat on the wiritng. Doctorow makes wonderful sentences at his best, specifically thinking of Ragtime here, but this book fell short of the mark for me then. A quick flip-through to blow fifteen years of cobwebs off my memories didn’t so much refute my earlier contention as show me how very spoiled I was by the olden-days craft of editing. If I read a novel this well-made today, I’d yodel from the housetops and dance mazurkas of rapture down the middle of the parkway. People who have read my reviews for a while might recall how UP I was over The Night Circus, and how much I loved it. So in that context, I say this: Had The Night Circus been edited as well as this far, far less extraordinary book (published in 1994) was, I think I would simply have melted into the fabric of the cosmos from sheer bliss. Skills are being lost. It is NOT a good thing. I grow sadder with every mediocre book I read that someone somewhere with the talent and ability to edit even the ~meh~ into BETTER ~meh~ isn’t getting the chance, the training, the mentoring, to do so.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

    I managed to finish this ... book, but just ... barely. Will I read another by this author ... I don't think so. Did I enjoy this ... book? No ... I did not ... enjoy ... this book. Why? The freaking ellipsis* (ellipses?)! The author's overuse of ... after ... after ... changed what could have been a fairly mediocre attempt at writing a 19th century mystery into something resembling sheer hell for this reader. These blasted dots made it impossible to tell (or care) if the character's voices were I managed to finish this ... book, but just ... barely. Will I read another by this author ... I don't think so. Did I enjoy this ... book? No ... I did not ... enjoy ... this book. Why? The freaking ellipsis* (ellipses?)! The author's overuse of ... after ... after ... changed what could have been a fairly mediocre attempt at writing a 19th century mystery into something resembling sheer hell for this reader. These blasted dots made it impossible to tell (or care) if the character's voices were different, made it impossible to become involved , and most importantly of all, made it impossible for me to EVER so much as consider reading anything else by this pompous, overbearing, windbag. Besides the ellipsis problem, there were other aspects of this book that rankled. 1. The plot--what little there was of it. Sure, most 19th century mysteries aren't considered all that mysterious nowadays, but they were in their time. In their time, they were fresh, new, and exciting, and many such as those by Anna Katharine Green can still knock the breath out of you. This plot was stale, old, and boring even when judged against 19th century mysteries. When you consider that it's a 21st century attempt to mimic a 19th century work, it crosses the line from trivial to pathetic. 2. The characters. Doctorow's characters bring new meaning to the phrase two-dimensional characters. This group of cliches had to be the most poorly written characters I have ever come across. They would be forgettable if it weren't that they were so bad. On top of this, even without the freaking ellipsis (ellipsises?) they all sounded alike. I don't mean their speech was similar, I mean they all sounded EXACTLY alike. You can pick two passages of dialog at random, and unless the dialog relates to something specific to the character, there is absolutely no way you can tell who is speaking. (Trust me, I tried this.) When you add back in the freaking ellipsis, the sameness of the characters becomes almost comic. 3. Pacing. The pacing is beyond slow, it's tedious. By the time the author stretched out what little plot there was to make a novel, you wind up having to wade through pages and pages of padding to find a bit of plot. (And then what plot you do find, isn't worth the trouble.) 4. Writing style. If the author has a writing style, it's buried very deep under all the ellipsis. Buried so deep that I, for one, have neither the time nor the inclination to bother digging it out. In short, the plot is crap, the characters are crap, the pacing is crap, and the writing is crap. If you like crap, you'll love this. If not, then don't bother unless you can find the version of the book that all the big-time critics seem to have read and rave about. (This other version must exist since there is no way they could have been reviewing the load of crap I waded through.) *So you won't think I'm exaggerating about the ellipsis, here's an example copied straight from the book: His eyes were sharp and clear black behind the incongruous pincenez [sic] affixed to the bridge of his nose ... but his head was shaved, he was beardless ... and in this freezing catacomb his legs were bare ... so that I was put in mind of some ... garden creature ... something hairless ... and all eyes.

  5. 5 out of 5

    dianne

    Evocative post Civil War New York with lotsa juicy images is the setting for this slightly hallucinogenic tale of familial treachery and greed. The story is told by an aged journalist who is only peripherally related to the main characters. The hypocrisy of religion, the limited morality of “science”, and the constant reminder that everything has a price, especially in “The Ring’s” NYC. Life under Boss Tweed; dramatic poverty and hoards of neglected children “street rats”, scurrying around the po Evocative post Civil War New York with lotsa juicy images is the setting for this slightly hallucinogenic tale of familial treachery and greed. The story is told by an aged journalist who is only peripherally related to the main characters. The hypocrisy of religion, the limited morality of “science”, and the constant reminder that everything has a price, especially in “The Ring’s” NYC. Life under Boss Tweed; dramatic poverty and hoards of neglected children “street rats”, scurrying around the powerful, rising, extraordinarily wealthy class not seen (in the new world before - or since, till now) is the palpable setting. “A conspicuously self-satisfied class of new wealth and weak intellect was all a-glitter in a setting of mass misery.” But even their wealth couldn’t prevent the frustration inherent in the wee, brief, transient, oh-so mortal, nature of our lives. There’s gotta be a way to buy a fix for that...right?

  6. 5 out of 5

    Kurt

    Once upon a time I thought Doctorow was a real contender, a heavyweight storyteller if not of canonical stature, then at least on par with other true professionals like Fowles or Dexter. Hell, I guess he is, actually, but it was Ragtime and Billy Bathgate that put that thought in mind, and Waterworks, while reinforcing the fact that Doctorow's a craftsman, does little to advance his reputation, in my opinion. It's a good, if dull, story and a nice little exercise in the ellipsis as pace-setter, Once upon a time I thought Doctorow was a real contender, a heavyweight storyteller if not of canonical stature, then at least on par with other true professionals like Fowles or Dexter. Hell, I guess he is, actually, but it was Ragtime and Billy Bathgate that put that thought in mind, and Waterworks, while reinforcing the fact that Doctorow's a craftsman, does little to advance his reputation, in my opinion. It's a good, if dull, story and a nice little exercise in the ellipsis as pace-setter, but in the end it's just dull, boring. blah. Read Ragtime though, and Billy Bathgate, if you like Ragtime.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Chana

    Slow-moving and boring. It didn't quite fit the crime genre nor the mystery genre. It certainly was not a thriller. It was more of a philosophical meandering asking questions about the advance of medicine and science versus religion, the advance of the machine age versus the pastoral, the acceptance and resignation of age versus the fire and idealism of youth. It has a few bright moments as a story and I would hold hope for a some pages that the writer would continue to be bright and clear, but Slow-moving and boring. It didn't quite fit the crime genre nor the mystery genre. It certainly was not a thriller. It was more of a philosophical meandering asking questions about the advance of medicine and science versus religion, the advance of the machine age versus the pastoral, the acceptance and resignation of age versus the fire and idealism of youth. It has a few bright moments as a story and I would hold hope for a some pages that the writer would continue to be bright and clear, but then he goes back to written mumbling about philosophical ideas and one very much feels the stifling, soporific underwater world that plays a large part in this story.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    An attempted thriller, an unchallenging genre exercise somewhat distinguished by above-average prose and elegant historical atmospherics. Perfect material for a mid-budget single season Netflix costumer.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    Underrated and under-read! By all means, listen to the (abridged, unfortunately) audiobook version by the great actor Sam Waterston. History, mystery, ethics, musings about eternity, the meaning of life, and New York trivia to boot. What more could you want?

  10. 5 out of 5

    Andy Weston

    New York in 1872 has grown to a population of almost a million. A freelance journalist goes missing after telling his editor that he just seen his own father, who died the year before, though he had no sort of relationship with him, a man who had earned his fortune running slave boats along the Atlantic Coast. Always there is the spectre of corruption, of bribery and extortion headed by the gangster Boss Tweed. As gripping as the plot is, NY itself is very much the star of the show, a place impr New York in 1872 has grown to a population of almost a million. A freelance journalist goes missing after telling his editor that he just seen his own father, who died the year before, though he had no sort of relationship with him, a man who had earned his fortune running slave boats along the Atlantic Coast. Always there is the spectre of corruption, of bribery and extortion headed by the gangster Boss Tweed. As gripping as the plot is, NY itself is very much the star of the show, a place imprisoned in thuggish corruption, where the police conspire with, rather than against, crime, a maze of alleyways crawling with the street-urchins who survive on the city's garbage, darting beneath the wheels of carriages, acting as newspaper-sellers, and loitering at the edge of squalid saloons. It is brought wonderfully to life in his writing.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Benjamin baschinsky

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I was very disappointed in this novel. Had high expectations as I have read others by E.L. Doctorow. Didn’t care for the medical terms or prose used at times. Couldn’t develop feeling for the characters. What I did gain is a thirst for knowledge about NYC history. 2.5

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jerry Delaney

    I seem to be all over the place with Doctorow. Some of his books I have loved while others - like this one - I really regret picking up. It read to me like a pastiche of popular (not literary) novels of the time in which it was set. Well done as an exercise for the writer but not enjoyable for the reader.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jan

    A wonderful philosophical novel and detective story with a strong moral sense and a beautiful portrait of New York City in the Boss Tweed era. And God, the man can write!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sera

    It is not a story of a lost writer, it is the story of a city. New York is actually the main character of the book. Doctorow depicts the city in a very elaborate and gloomy way and he takes us to a journey of New York in old times. We can breathe that air with the author's meticulous style. However, he doesn't capture the reader so easily. The mysterious story of the lost writer Martin Pemberton could have been told more thrillingly in my opinion but Pemberton doesn't give what we expect as read It is not a story of a lost writer, it is the story of a city. New York is actually the main character of the book. Doctorow depicts the city in a very elaborate and gloomy way and he takes us to a journey of New York in old times. We can breathe that air with the author's meticulous style. However, he doesn't capture the reader so easily. The mysterious story of the lost writer Martin Pemberton could have been told more thrillingly in my opinion but Pemberton doesn't give what we expect as readers. After some point, I lost my attention towards the story. The book expects high concentration from the reader and it turns into the story of a weird doctor which was a bit disappointing to me. I don't mean to say that a story should have a surprising and stunning ending but it shouldn't be like this either.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Notcathy J

    "Someone should tell him that ellipses do not replace dashes, commas or semicolons, even if you are one of America's preeminent men of letters." "Someone should tell him that ellipses do not replace dashes, commas or semicolons, even if you are one of America's preeminent men of letters."

  16. 4 out of 5

    Charlie Ravioli

    Took me a couple of tries to finish this. Loved the way in which the author mimicked the writing style of the times and how he described the city and all it’s going ons. The detective story dragged a little for me and when it finally came together it wasn’t that satisfying. All that said, I appreciate the points made about money, the quest for immortality, the exploitation of youth, modernization and science, the gilded age nature of humanity, corruption and Tweed and the idea that nothing is re Took me a couple of tries to finish this. Loved the way in which the author mimicked the writing style of the times and how he described the city and all it’s going ons. The detective story dragged a little for me and when it finally came together it wasn’t that satisfying. All that said, I appreciate the points made about money, the quest for immortality, the exploitation of youth, modernization and science, the gilded age nature of humanity, corruption and Tweed and the idea that nothing is really new here, it’s just the city and the humanity that makes it up again and again and again, true immortality itself.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy Hornik

    A lush, grim novel, generous with language and the detail with which the characters are drawn, but dark, dark about the power and emptiness of money. The narrator is a newspaperman who has been driven to inarticulacy by the horrors he had discovered. The use of ellipses... is... telling. This is in large part a horror novel, with the mad Doctor Sartorius and his amoral pursuit of knowledge being the perfect match to the amoral capitalists and their pursuit of wealth holding sway over the sway ov A lush, grim novel, generous with language and the detail with which the characters are drawn, but dark, dark about the power and emptiness of money. The narrator is a newspaperman who has been driven to inarticulacy by the horrors he had discovered. The use of ellipses... is... telling. This is in large part a horror novel, with the mad Doctor Sartorius and his amoral pursuit of knowledge being the perfect match to the amoral capitalists and their pursuit of wealth holding sway over the sway over the glittering icy city of New York. What is the purpose of it all?

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jess M

    A good book but I found it difficult to get in to. It was a hard slog through the first 100 pages. The incessant and unnecessary use of ellipses was pretty annoying, and after a while, I was able to ignore them enough to keep going. The story, however, was compelling and I enjoyed the twists and turns of the mystery and the various characters who played a role in unraveling it. Overall, an enjoyable read, but certainly not a must-read.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Pedro L. Fragoso

    I bought, and still have, the original hardcover edition, from 1994, when Simon Schama classified it in the review in the New York Times as a "startling and spellbinding new novel". There was another review in the Times that year mentioning a "haunting new novel" and later, on the author's death, a consideration of "a dark mystery set in Manhattan in the 1870s, involving a journalist who vanishes and an evil scientist." Now that I finally got around to actually reading it, I can confirm it all. T I bought, and still have, the original hardcover edition, from 1994, when Simon Schama classified it in the review in the New York Times as a "startling and spellbinding new novel". There was another review in the Times that year mentioning a "haunting new novel" and later, on the author's death, a consideration of "a dark mystery set in Manhattan in the 1870s, involving a journalist who vanishes and an evil scientist." Now that I finally got around to actually reading it, I can confirm it all. Ta-Nehisi Coates includes the book in the 2015 list of the ten best of his life so far and states that it is "one of the most thrilling books I’ve ever read. And I still believe in that, you know? That stories should sometimes thrill people. Not all the time. But sometimes." Well, yes, absolutely. This is a wonderful novel of New York ("Our brickworks . . . our makers of ink and our paper mills . . . our book publishers . . . our mowers and harvesters and sowers and reapers -- all still, unmoving, stricken, as if the entire city of New York would be forever encased and frozen, aglitter and God-stunned."), marked by steampunk allegories ("These were connected by wires to a pair of needles with their points resting against a revolving wax cylinder set in a wood box. He explained everything as he went along. The cylinder was turned by a gear' shaft attached to a small brass steam engine.") and science-fiction themes ("I saw him transfuse blood from one living being to another. I saw him with a hypodermic tube inject cellular matter into deadened brains. I saw first one, then another, of the orphan children begin to age, like leaves turning yellow. Was this the work? Though I saw some of it, I was in crucial matters kept ignorant.") in a mesmerizing literary accomplishment ("Whatever their state of being, they were hardly more pathetic than people you will find strolling on Broadway, or shopping in Washington Market, all of them severely governed by tribal custom, and a structure of fantasies which they call civilization, Civilization does not fortify the membranous mind, or alter our subjection to the moment, the moment that has no memory, The person who grows old, or halt, has no past in the eyes of others, The gallant soldier on the battlefield one day is the next day the amputated beggar we would rather not look at on the street corner. "We live subject to the moment according to cycles of light and dark, and weeks and months. Our bodies have tides, and flow with measurable impulses of electric magnetism. It may be that we live strung like our telegraph wires in fields of waves of all kinds and lengths, waves we can see and hear and waves we cannot, and the life we feel, the animacy, is what is shaken through us by these waves, Sometimes I cannot understand how these demanding questions of truth do not impel everyone - why I and a few others are the exception to the mass of men so content with their epistemological limitations that some even make poetry of them.") The press is realistically presented: "As a jobless editor I was still jealous of my exclusive. Sitting there in the hospital room, I experienced additionally the feelings of a private person who shudders in contemplation of the prospect, of serious matters of his own intimate knowledge, subjected to the low standards and deplorable practices of the newspaper profession." Amazingly good and yes, very thrilling.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Simon Mcleish

    Originally published on my blog here in February 2001. The industrialisation of the northeastern United States is one of the most important processes in the development of the modern country, but lacking the romance of the Wild West and the South it is not so frequently a subject for fiction. Doctorow's novel, which is set in New York in the early 1870s, is an exception, and it is a gothic tale strongly influenced by writers of the period. The narrator is a newspaper editor, who is in a good posit Originally published on my blog here in February 2001. The industrialisation of the northeastern United States is one of the most important processes in the development of the modern country, but lacking the romance of the Wild West and the South it is not so frequently a subject for fiction. Doctorow's novel, which is set in New York in the early 1870s, is an exception, and it is a gothic tale strongly influenced by writers of the period. The narrator is a newspaper editor, who is in a good position to understand New York in this period of rapid change, as the city expands at an incredible rate after the North's victory in the Civil War while remaining under the corrupt government of the Ring led by Bill Tweed. A symbol of the changing city, which is the source of the title, is the vast reservoir behind high walls in the north of the city, providing water to supply industry and the expanding population. The gothic side of the novel is a Frankenstein inspired plot, which begins when one of the freelance contributors to the newspaper sees his dead father in a carriage on Broadway. The father had been a rich man, his fortune founded on the slave trade and wartime profiteering, and his son had been disinherited following an argument about morality. But when Augustus Pemberton had died, the fortune had disappeared, leaving the widow and another son virtually destitute. The Waterworks is more than a historical novel. Indeed, it is very unlikely that the events described in the novel could have taken place. It is in part a homage to the Gothic, and is also intended to show something about today's America. This is basically that the single-minded pursuit of wealth does not produce happiness - something which may seem obvious, but often seems to be ignored in practice.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Nathan Fehr

    Book Report on WATERWORKS by E.L. Doctorow 07/16/09 DID YOU FIND OUT ABOUT THE EVENTS OF THE STORY IN THE ORDER IN WHICH THEY WOULD ACTUALLY HAVE HAPPENED? No. The narrator, McIlvane, is retelling the story years after it has occurred and makes many jumps forward and back as he goes along. It nicely reinforces the idea that he's been thinking a lot about the events of the novel himself, and that he's worked hard to understand things and put them in sequence when in some ways that isn't really possi Book Report on WATERWORKS by E.L. Doctorow 07/16/09 DID YOU FIND OUT ABOUT THE EVENTS OF THE STORY IN THE ORDER IN WHICH THEY WOULD ACTUALLY HAVE HAPPENED? No. The narrator, McIlvane, is retelling the story years after it has occurred and makes many jumps forward and back as he goes along. It nicely reinforces the idea that he's been thinking a lot about the events of the novel himself, and that he's worked hard to understand things and put them in sequence when in some ways that isn't really possible. It's also kind of endearing. Makes the storyteller seem more human. He'll start down a path and then say "I know we haven't met this guy yet but it's important you know about him already" or "You should really know about the way things were before we continue." DO YOU THINK THE TITLE IS APPROPRIATE FOR THE STORY? Absolutely, but you don't really figure out why until fairly late in the story. Water is actually very present throughout the story in different forms (rivers, reservors, what have you) and in many places the narrator uses it to make important metaphorical connections. Also, on reflection, a lot of very important events in the book seem to happen near water of some kind. WHAT IS THE STORY REALLY ABOUT? That's a tough one - there are a lot of themes in the book. I'd say in large part it's about what people do when confronted by something 'wrong' in the world - be it through acts of evil people, or injustices done, or whatever. Everyone in the story has been confronted by a choice and must either get involved and fight to change what they cannot stand, or stand aside and just try to live a day-to-day existence in the midst of what they know is not right.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ronald

    A goodreads friend recenltly reviewed a novel by E.L. Doctorow, and that caused me to remember that I read another novel by E.L. Doctorow, _The Waterworks._ The novel was first published in 1994. I read it in the late 90s. The novel falls in two genres I'm interested in: Gothic and SF horror. Specifically, the story takes place in New York in 1871. E.L. Doctorow is excellent at creating a picture of the time. The corrupt politics of Tammany Hall. Maimed veterans of the American Civil War out on th A goodreads friend recenltly reviewed a novel by E.L. Doctorow, and that caused me to remember that I read another novel by E.L. Doctorow, _The Waterworks._ The novel was first published in 1994. I read it in the late 90s. The novel falls in two genres I'm interested in: Gothic and SF horror. Specifically, the story takes place in New York in 1871. E.L. Doctorow is excellent at creating a picture of the time. The corrupt politics of Tammany Hall. Maimed veterans of the American Civil War out on the street begging for alms. The narrator is a journalist who caught a glimpse of his father--which is a surprise, for the narrator thought that his father was dead. The narrator investigates this mystery and discovers that his father, along with some other wealthy men, are not dead. These men are being kept alive by Dr. Sartorius. Sartorius, a brilliant and innovative Army surgeon during the Civil War, had invented treatments that were then unknown to medicine: blood transfusions, dialysis, bone marrow transplants and others. His dark secret is that young children must be sacrificed for their blood and somatic cells. These treatments are done in a secret locale. Two shortcomings of the novel. Doctorow overuses ellipses....This was a distraction for me, the reader....A second problem is that I felt the novel was somewhat padded....Though my memory might be at fault here...But I felt at the time that this story should have been told at novella length.... If the novel didn't go overboard on the ellipses, and were written at novella length, I would have given this 5 stars. This book, of course, was published before the epublishing revolution. It is no accident that in this new era of publishing, the novella as an art form is experiencing a resurgence.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kate.

    On a cobbled street at the lower east tip of Manhattan is a gift shop filled with absurdly priced items -- $3,800 coffee tables. $400 earrings. $2,000 leather satchels. Hell! It's New York, so who am I to try to understand prices? But on the second floor of this gift shop is something I understand perfectly: books. This bookshop is devoted to the idea that celebrities are people too; this bookshop sells only the 10 favorite books of certain celebrities. I took a spin around the store reflecting On a cobbled street at the lower east tip of Manhattan is a gift shop filled with absurdly priced items -- $3,800 coffee tables. $400 earrings. $2,000 leather satchels. Hell! It's New York, so who am I to try to understand prices? But on the second floor of this gift shop is something I understand perfectly: books. This bookshop is devoted to the idea that celebrities are people too; this bookshop sells only the 10 favorite books of certain celebrities. I took a spin around the store reflecting on celebrity culture and wrinkling my nose at Tom Ford's literary love of Ayn Rand. And then I found the shelf dedicated to the favorite books of Ta-Nehisi Coates. And on that shelf I found The Waterworks. And in The Waterworks, I found the most mesmerizing and upsetting examination of American values I have read in a long time. Wealth and power, the inconvenient poverty of city life, the media circus that ultimately gives rise to the truth. I think I understand Coates better after reading this book. I'm not precisely sure where to start. Set in NYC in the years following the Civil War, this novel is about young Martin Pemberton's quest to find his old scoundrel of a father. The novel is told from the perspective of Martin's newspaper boss, many years later. Martin's father was pure evil in life -- he defrauded the US Government, traded slaves by bribing port inspectors, drained all capital from his estate, and faked his own death. But his father's destiny in faked death is stranger (and somehow more appropriate?) than I ever dreamed. Child abduction. Municipal fraud. Grave robbing. Civil War service loyalty. The evil doctor. I loved it. The author E.L. Doctorow died recently, and reading this book was a humbling in memoriam.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Beth

    Although this was a pretty good book, it was probably my least favorite of all the EL Doctorow books which I have read. I can't go into much detail about the story without essentially giving away the whole book. This is because they kind of keep you in the dark about what is going on at the Waterworks until the last couple chapters. I am sure that at the time this book first came out it was a shocking concept, but there was a movie made a few years ago that must have either been based off of thi Although this was a pretty good book, it was probably my least favorite of all the EL Doctorow books which I have read. I can't go into much detail about the story without essentially giving away the whole book. This is because they kind of keep you in the dark about what is going on at the Waterworks until the last couple chapters. I am sure that at the time this book first came out it was a shocking concept, but there was a movie made a few years ago that must have either been based off of this book or had the same general concept. I won't say what movie it was but I will tell you if you ask me. But it will give away the mystery as to what is going on at The Waterworks.

  25. 4 out of 5

    David

    This was handed to me by a neighbor so I thought, "what the heck, Doctorow is supposed to be a good author" and read the thing. When I mentioned this to my sister she said that Doctorow's books struck her pulp-fiction instead of literary which is what she expected given the author's reputation. I would have to say that this book is more like pulp-fiction that is trying to be literary - not the best of either world. I am sure not inclined to read any more of this author's works based on this "mys This was handed to me by a neighbor so I thought, "what the heck, Doctorow is supposed to be a good author" and read the thing. When I mentioned this to my sister she said that Doctorow's books struck her pulp-fiction instead of literary which is what she expected given the author's reputation. I would have to say that this book is more like pulp-fiction that is trying to be literary - not the best of either world. I am sure not inclined to read any more of this author's works based on this "mystery" novel.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Akiva

    Definitely one of Doctorow's lesser efforts. There are bits of good writing and the mystery kept me going, but the book definitely fell flat. Another book where the narrator is largely a nonentity as interesting things happen around him. I kind of feel like the entire book was an extended exercise in foreshadowing and that most of it was just an extended metaphor about stasis and change. Definitely one of Doctorow's lesser efforts. There are bits of good writing and the mystery kept me going, but the book definitely fell flat. Another book where the narrator is largely a nonentity as interesting things happen around him. I kind of feel like the entire book was an extended exercise in foreshadowing and that most of it was just an extended metaphor about stasis and change.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Joel

    This was an extremely dull book. If you want to get into Doctorow, I'd suggest starting with Sweet Land Stories, which was great, or Ragtime (haven't read it but I know it's his most famous). Skip this. He uses ellipses between almost every sentence. It gets aggravating very quickly. The whole book was bland. This was an extremely dull book. If you want to get into Doctorow, I'd suggest starting with Sweet Land Stories, which was great, or Ragtime (haven't read it but I know it's his most famous). Skip this. He uses ellipses between almost every sentence. It gets aggravating very quickly. The whole book was bland.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lara

    very grim, but insightful, even profound. I loved the narrator with his masterfully rendered voice of a 19th-century new yorker and his whole persona evolving around this seemingly disembodied voice. and of course New York itself - beautiful and nuanced stylisation into which history weavened not as facts or numbers but as living pulse of the city life, so that one can feel its beat even today.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Teresa

    It felt like a slow book at first, but I soon found myself turning pages quickly to discover the solution to the mystery. With a backdrop of 1840s New York, as only Doctorow can do backdrops, even a lame story would read-well. But this was no lame story. Yes, it's been done before - and done much better since (by Ishiguro) - but I liked it for what it was. A darn good read. It felt like a slow book at first, but I soon found myself turning pages quickly to discover the solution to the mystery. With a backdrop of 1840s New York, as only Doctorow can do backdrops, even a lame story would read-well. But this was no lame story. Yes, it's been done before - and done much better since (by Ishiguro) - but I liked it for what it was. A darn good read.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Linda Rowland

    It was as though it was written during the actual time. Not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing, but it made the reading less enjoyable for me. I found myself skimming when I should have been focusing on each word. Simply not the way I want to read, but I did find I wanted to know what was going on so I kept at it.

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