The World of Tomorrow


By Brendan Mathews

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One whirlwind week of love, blackmail, and betrayal follows three brothers through teeming prewar New York in this “entertaining . . . outsized . . . big, expressive debut” (Wall Street Journal).

June 1939. Francis Dempsey and his shell-shocked brother, Michael, are on an ocean liner from Ireland bound for their brother Martin’s home in New York City, having stolen a small fortune from the IRA. During the week that follows, the lives of these three brothers collide spectacularly with big-band jazz musicians, a talented but fragile heiress, a Jewish street photographer facing a return to Nazi-occupied Prague, a vengeful mob boss, and the ghosts of their own family’s revolutionary past.

When Tom Cronin, an erstwhile assassin forced into one last job, tracks the brothers down, their lives begin to fracture. Francis must surrender to blackmail or have his family suffer fatal consequences. Michael, lost and wandering alone, turns to Lilly Bloch, a heartsick artist, to recover his decimated memory. And Martin and his wife, Rosemary, try to salvage their marriage and, ultimately, the lives of the other Dempseys. Meanwhile, with the Depression receding, all of New York is suffused with an electric feeling of hope, caught up in the fervor of the World’s Fair and eager for good times after a decade of deprivation.

From the smoky jazz joints of Harlem to the opulent Plaza Hotel, from the garrets of vagabonds and artists in the Bowery to the backroom warrens and shadowy warehouses of mobsters in Hell’s Kitchen, Brendan Mathews brings the prewar metropolis to vivid, pulsing life. The sweeping, intricate, and ambitious storytelling throughout this remarkable debut reveals an America that blithely hoped it could avoid another catastrophic war and focus instead on the promise of the World’s Fair: a peaceful, prosperous “World of Tomorrow.”

One whirlwind week of love, blackmail, and betrayal following three brothers through teeming prewar New York in this “entertaining . . . outsized . . . big, expressive debut” (Wall Street Journal)

“A masterfully crafted novel . . . Comic, violent, and moving in equal measure.”-John Irving

“As rich and raucous as the city it celebrates.”-O., The Oprah Magazine

“Admirably fearless . . . Mathews has talent in buckets.”-New York Times Book Review



FRANCIS NEVER EXPECTED THE silverware would be his undoing. Seated in the first-class dining room of the MV Britannic, halfway between the Old World and the New, he surveyed a landscape of crystal stemware and bone china, of crisp linen and centerpieces ripe with flowers he had never seen, in colors he had never dreamed. High above, the coffered ceiling glowed, its milk-glass panels outlined in brass. A frieze marched around the upper reaches of the room—an angular, art deco skirmish of horses, stags, and dogs. Every wall, even the air itself, was awash in hues of honey and amber, and at every table sat men and women gilded in good fortune and turned out in tuxedos, or gowns, or regimental dress. But what did all of this abundance matter when his own plate was blockaded by a medieval armory in miniature? He counted five forks, four spoons, and at least as many knives. He hadn't a clue where to begin.

Francis had hoped to take his lead from one of his tablemates: on one side, the Binghams, a mother and daughter returning to New York from their self-styled Grand Tour, and on the other, the Walters, a mismatched pair of marrieds from Philadelphia, accompanied by the wife's laconic, chain-smoking brother. Yet when the bowls of chilled broth—consommé, the menu called it—were placed in front of them, they all seemed to wait for Francis. Was that how it worked? The nobility dined first, and only then did the robber barons feast?

Easy enough. All he had to do was select the right spoon, and thereby prove his merit to the Americans, who were under the impression that he was a Scotsman, and a wealthy one at that, and perhaps even one with a castle overlooking a Highland loch. Before he was forced to choose, however, Mrs. Bingham resumed the conversation about the journeys that had led each of them to the Britannic.

"I'm curious to know, Sir Angus," she said, for Angus was the name Francis had given, though the Sir was entirely her own addition. "How did you find Ireland?"

"Oh, it was quite simple, really," he said. "I took the ferry from Liverpool. The boat knew just where to go."

Mrs. Bingham giggled, almost girlishly. Francis might have guessed that she was in her thirties, if not for her daughter, who looked to be about twenty. The missus insisted that he call her Delphine, and as for the miss, she was called Anisette. When Francis inquired about the Frenchness of their names, Mrs. Bing—strike that, Delphine—explained that she had been born and raised in Montreal, where the citizens spoke a purer form of the language than the pidgin bandied about in your average Paris café. As she told it, Quebec had acted as a safe haven where the French language endured without contamination by Continental dialects and the occasional trespass of Prussian troops. And hadn't the possible return of Prussians or Germans or whatever they were calling themselves these days been one motivation for their trip? It was only last year that Germany had anschlussed Austria, then chased it with a shot of the Sudetenland! Spurred by the fear that there would be no fall collections that year, they had ended four months of touring in a frenzy of Chanel and Schiaparelli.

"And if it all settles down?" Francis-as-Angus said.

"Can it ever be a mistake to visit Paris?" Mrs. B's eyes twinkled, and he saw how easily Mr. Bingham, whoever he was, must have fallen.

During Mrs. Bingham's recitation on family, fashion, and all things français, the Philadelphia trio had begun with their broth, and Francis tried to take note of which spoon they had chosen. He thought he was being clever, but as he caught the eye of the silk-sheathed Marion Walter, she stared back at him with feline hunger. His blood surged—a jolt from groin to gullet—and he looked away, only to meet a similar gaze from her brother, Alex, a small man neatly encased in a tuxedo. Horace Walter, much older and rounder than the others, was already clouded by his first two cocktails; he had eyes only for the next course. The Walters were returning from a trip through Italy and Germany, where they had taken part in a brisk tourist trade catering to Americans eager to see firsthand the proper way to run a modern nation. They had rendezvoused in Le Havre with Alex, whose itinerary had taken him through the seaside resorts of the Mediterranean. Apparently, there was a Mrs. Alex still on the Continent—something about friends in Biarritz who simply could not part with her until after some festival or other. He seemed unfazed by her whereabouts—his only mention of her was accompanied by a jet of cigarette smoke—but the Binghams tsk-tsked and fretted about how lonely he must be without her.

Conversation turned to Sir Angus, his reasons for traveling to New York, and oh-by-the-way, was he traveling alone? Francis explained that he was escorting his younger brother to New York for medical attention. That much was true, though he transformed Michael into Malcolm to keep his alias intact. Young Malcolm had been grievously injured while foxhunting, he told them, and there wasn't a doctor in Britain or Ireland who could help him. "His case has baffled the finest medical minds in London, but I have high hopes for what the American doctors can tell us," he said, taking a swipe at the old empire while goosing the national pride of his companions. He quickly saw that his story had elicited another reaction: Anisette, who had lips like a bow on a box of sweets, practically cooed in admiration. This Sir Angus was both landed aristocrat and benevolent protector—a Scottish Mr. Darcy, minus the unpleasantness of the first thirty-odd chapters.

"It's admirable," she said, "what you're willing to do for your brother."

"The question, Miss Bingham, is what wouldn't I be willing to do for my brother?"

Francis was growing more confident with the quality of his counterfeit Scotsmanship. As the entrées were presented, he asked the Binghams what news they had from home. "I must confess that I devote little time to ex-colonial affairs," he said, but the truth was that life in Dublin had offered only a moviegoer's knowledge of New York: newsreels, The Thin Man, Forty-Second Street, A Night at the Opera. He should have known more about the city. His older brother, Martin, had emigrated years before, but Francis knew little of his life; he was a musician, married, had a child or two, and lived in a place unmusically called the Bronx. Over the years, communication between the brothers had gone from strained to nonexistent. Martin knew nothing of Francis's escape, Michael's condition, or their father's recent death. Of course Francis would seek him out, but first he had to decide what to tell him. Martin was sure to have questions that Francis wasn't ready to answer.

But while Martin could be difficult, the Americans were easy. He had assumed that they would be a uniformly anti-royalist lot; what about their man George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson with his "all men are created equal" talk? Surely the Americans would have been bred with a distaste for crowned heads and any hint of duke- or earlishness. But no. Thanks to Francis's accent and the rumor of a peerage, the Americans aboard the Britannic—the women, especially—were drawn to him like crows to corn. And Francis, for his part, was playing the peacock. The suits he had purchased in Cork were not backbench grays and clubbish blues. He had paired glen plaids with boldly tartaned waistcoats; if he was in for a Glasgow penny, he was in for an Edinburgh pound. It should not have surprised him, once he saw the stir he caused, how easy it was for word to spread. He'd had one brief chat on the top deck with a woman whose hat he had rescued from the rapacious winds of the North Atlantic, and by the late dinner seating Angus MacFarquhar was the most eligible bachelor on the Britannic.

While the Binghams courted the favor of Sir Angus, Horace Walter engaged in vociferous, fact-free talk about Roosevelt and his latest plans for the ruination of the country. His greatest fear was the final takeover of America by communists, socialists, freeloaders, court-packers, and others bent on stripping the best members of society of all they owned and passing it willy-nilly to the drunks and the wastrels who still lined up for free soup and stale bread. Before he resumed drowning himself in gin and creamed herring, he opined that the Depression hadn't been all bad—that it had, in fact, helped to thin the ranks of a certain class of bounders who had gate-crashed high society in the '20s.

"A necessary winnowing of the wheat from the chaff," he said. As he spoke, his hand went, as if by its own volition, to the diamond-topped stickpin in his lapel. He touched it the way Francis had been taught to strike his breast when the priest intoned the Agnus Dei.

The others nodded, either in agreement or out of a desire to move on to another topic. Francis offered a "Quite, quite," though with little gusto, and fixed his gaze on the man's pouched sow eyes, then on the diamond, and finally on his wife.

"And what of the royal visit?" The question came from Alex. He and his sister had the same narrow build, the same shell of brilliantined black hair. One of the only deviations between brother and sister was the pencil-line mustache that traced the ridge of his upper lip. Alex eyed him quizzically as wisps of smoke drifted from his cupped hand. "Will you be taking part in the festivities?"

Royal visit? Alex had mentioned it in such an offhand way that it must be common knowledge, but which royals? And visiting where? This was exactly why Francis had meant to stay out of society during the voyage—to avoid just this sort of stumble. He knew that as quickly as his notoriety had spread, so too could his unmasking. He dabbed at his mouth with his napkin, buying time. "My first responsibility must be to my brother," he finally said. "Any festivities will have to wait until after I have consulted with his doctors."

Alex arched an eyebrow: unconvinced or unimpressed. Francis folded his hands. He meant for the gesture to be nonchalant, but it looked like he was fidgeting.

"I don't see what all of the fuss is about." Marion's words came slowly, languor mixed with white burgundy. "The crowned heads of England, certainly that's exciting. But at the World's Fair? Wild horses couldn't drag me there."

"Yes, my lovely," her husband said, "but what about a wild horseman?"

"Do pipe down," she said. "No one—"

"Oh, I think the World's Fair sounds lovely!" Anisette positively beamed. "The crowds may be horrid, I know. But the pavilions look so bright and so full of light and so—oh, what's the word?"

"I think you struck the nail on the head when you said horrid," Marion said. "First thought, best thought—right, dear?"

Anisette persisted: "Modern. Everything looks new, but not just newly built. Newly imagined. As if the whole world has been remade, but better than before."

"Now, that does sound lovely," Francis said. He was happy to steer conversation away from this royal visit, and to find another topic on which Francis and Francis-as-Angus could agree: a better world—a world of fresh starts—sounded lovely indeed.

"I don't know that lovely is the word for it," Alex said. "The aesthetics have an aroma of the fascist about them. All those hard angles and empty-eyed statues. A bit too orderly by half, for my tastes."

"You've got it all wrong," Horace said. "A more fascist aesthetic is just what the World's Fair, and in fact the whole country, needs. The Italians, if you can believe it, they've got it figured out. And of course the Germans. Exemplary. Government and business working together, hand in fist—"

"Oh, Horace, not this again," Marion said.

From the next table came a swell of oohs and aahs: dessert, a ziggurat of glazed fruit, had been set alight. Francis was nervously aware that it had been almost two hours since he'd left his brother, and seeing his chance, he rose from his seat, begging leave of the ladies of the table. "My brother," he offered by way of an excuse. "He needs minding, and I fear I have dallied too long in your charming company." He gave a curt nod, a winsome smile, and then he was striding out of the dining room. Only Horace failed to mark the moment that he disappeared from sight.

NO ONE AT the table knew that ten days earlier, Francis Xavier Dempsey had been an inmate in Mountjoy Prison, Dublin, where meals were strictly a one-spoon affair. Convicted of trafficking in books banned under the Censorship of Publications Act as well as in other luxuries proscribed by the tariff-hungry, priest-fearing politicians of the fledgling Republic of Ireland, he had been halfway through a three-year sentence. At the same time, his brother Michael, not yet eighteen, had been an inmate of a different sort, locked up in the seminary and preparing for life as a missionary in some steamy, godforsaken corner of the globe. And their father? Ten days ago he was still alive, no doubt muddling through another lesson instructing the sons and daughters of farmers on the proper conjugation of the Latin verb amare.

Now their father was in the ground and his death had made possible a new life for his sons. One moment, Francis and Michael were kneeling in prayer at his funeral, each expecting to return to his own place of confinement. The next, a map was pressed into their hands, they fled in a stolen car, a house was blown to bits, three men lay dead, money rained from the sky, and Michael was broken but still breathing. Somehow, through the workings of God or luck or the unrecognized genius of Francis himself, he rose from that cock-up of death and wreckage and seized the day. Wouldn't his father have told him to do exactly that? Carpe diem. Well, he had carpe'd the diem and squeezed it for all it was worth.

Pursued by the massed forces of the church and the state—not to mention the Irish Republican Army, whose safe house–cum–bomb factory Francis had played some role in demolishing—he devised a way to spirit Michael and himself out of Ireland. They would travel first class, dress first class, and act as first class as Francis could manage. It sounded mad, but the First-Class Plan, as he christened it, landed the Dempsey brothers in a stateroom on the Britannic, with the crew and passengers convinced they were a pair of young Scottish lords. Francis hoped that his peerish pretensions would keep lower-born passengers at bay, and that his affected Scottishness would scramble the senses of better-born Englishmen. He had no plans to socialize with the other passengers, and, before tonight, had relied on room service for his meals. He was, after all, a fugitive, and after ten days on the run, he needed to rest.

As for Michael, he needed more than rest; he needed restoration. The blast had left him badly damaged. He came in and out of consciousness, and when awake, he was prone to fits. Two days earlier, as they prepared to board the ship at Cobh, the sun had punched through the clouds for the first time in weeks. Francis took a moment to admire the way the harbor came alive under the sun's influence, gray flannel transformed into a field of diamonds. He had an arm around Michael, supporting his unsteady steps, and as Michael lifted his face and the warmth of the sun touched him, he seemed to smile. But then his lids fluttered open and it was as if someone had stabbed an ember in his eye. His hands went to his face, his legs buckled, and he emitted a gurgling cry. When he tumbled, two of the pursers double-timed it over to the brothers and between them lifted Michael off the quay and carried him up the gangplank. That had been the first test of the FC Plan, and the quick attention of the pursers, each of whom Francis rewarded with a pound note, was proof positive that the plan was working.

Now the FC Plan had passed another test. He had navigated a first-class dinner, steered conversation away from that pesky royal visit, and perhaps impressed an American or two with his—dare he say?—nobility. He had even chosen the proper spoon, a sure sign of good things to come.

MICHAEL—YES, THAT was his name. He knew that now, though he had been grasping at it for what seemed like weeks, so long that he had begun to wonder if he even had a name, or if his mind had become so porous that names could find no purchase. But now he knew. He was Michael. He was Michael and he was in a bed with a red and gold cover, in a small room with round windows on one wall. Next to the bed was a table with a glass of water and a lamp that cast a pale glow, beyond which lay another bed just like his. On the other side of his bed was a leather chair and in the chair sat an old man with a sharp, beakish nose and a spray of white hair above his lean face. The man wore spectacles—round, black, and heavy—and a creamy white suit and waistcoat. A black cravat, like some leafy night-blooming flower, ran riot from his shirt collar. Michael nodded to the old man and the old man nodded in reply. He'd never spoken to the old man but he knew the man had been there—in that chair, in this room—for… for… for as long as Michael could remember. Was that a day? A week? More? It could not be his whole life because out on the fringes of his memory, in that spot where his own name had hovered just out of reach, there were other, brighter moments, and he could only hope that they would return to him like the wreckage of a ship pushed, ebb after ebb, to the shore.

"I'm Michael," he said to the man, who raised his shaggy eyebrows as if appraising this bit of information. The man nodded again and crossed one knee over the other, letting his left foot bob above the carpet. He did not seem to be in any hurry to answer. He looked like a man who had resigned himself to waiting for a train that was still many hours from the station. Michael shrugged and reached for the glass of water on the nightstand, but his grip was feeble, and he watched as the glass hit the table, splashed water across the polished wood, and toppled to the floor. All of this transpired without a sound. Michael sat back against his pillow and clapped his hands: all was silence. He shouted, Hallooooooooo, felt the strain in his throat, but where was the sound?

"Why can't I hear—" he began to say to the old man, and startled at the sound of his voice. He lurched forward. "Why can I only hear myself when I'm talking to you?"

The old man looked at Michael over the rims of his spectacles as if he were noticing him—really taking note of him—for the first time. Then he tilted his chin up and peered at Michael through the lower half of his lenses. During his inspection of Michael he became distracted by something on his trousers, and with great care he plucked a tuft of dust from his knee and flicked it to the floor. Slowly his tongue wet the corners of his lips. All of this seemed preliminary to speaking, but he said nothing. Was this man a doctor? Michael wondered. Was that the reason for his excessively white wardrobe? He considered the possibilities: hospital, infirmary, sanatorium, insane asylum.

The man's chin dipped and Michael leaned closer, expecting some explanation—My boy, you've been in a dreadful accident but all will be well. When the man's mouth opened, however, a torrent of sound—the Noise!—came pouring out of him. If Michael had been pinned at the bottom of a waterfall, the sound could not have been any louder; it was the fury of sea waves assaulting the cliff face. He clapped his hands over his ears but it made no difference. The circular windows roared like the mouths of cannons. Michael writhed on the bed and drew himself into a ball. The Noise continued to pulverize him. Not until the old man shut his mouth did the sound wane, though it did not cease entirely, but merely seemed more distant, as if he were in a cottage above the sea rather than chained to the rocks below.

Not a doctor at all, Michael thought. A torturer, that's what he was. But he also had to admit a third possibility, that the old man was an angel of the avenging variety. That would explain the white clothes, the voice like a thousand brass cymbals. He had not seen it immediately because he had always thought of angels in flowing robes with brilliant halos and massive wings of white. Still, that cravat troubled him: it was black, as were those hard owlish spectacles. Could the man be a devil? Or a pooka, of the sort he'd heard in the stories told by the woman who did their washing back in Ballyrath?

Ballyrath. The word jarred something loose: that was his home. The woman—Mrs. Greavey, that was her name. The washing on the line, like white pennants strung between two posts. The cottage with its white walls and thatched roof, and the green hills in all directions. This and more came rushing back at him. Ballyrath. He had been a boy there, and he had left home for the seminary with its gray stone and gaudy stained glass, its black cassocks and narrow cots. The long tables, the gloopy eggs and gristly rashers of the morning meal. He could smell the sugared fumes rising from the censer during the consecration, could feel the pages of his Augustine and Aquinas; each leaf crackled when turned, as if the books had been waterlogged and poorly dried. All of this had bloomed suddenly in his head, but none of it explained how he had arrived here, or where here was.

He had his name, he had these moments in time, but there was an unfathomable gap between there and here. He thought about finding a mirror, hoping his appearance could offer some clue, but he couldn't make his body do its part. He wasn't paralyzed—he had figured out that much. But he felt so heavy, so tired, as if the effort of remembering had sapped him. He took a deep breath and let his head loll on the pillow. The old man—not a doctor, possibly an angel, likely a devil—remained in his chair. If this was a visitation by some divine or demonic presence, then Michael had to ask: What had he done to deserve this pain? He felt sleep coming on again, the exhaustion of his limbs overtaking him, and in that moment he stumbled on one last question: Am I dead?

FRANCIS EASED THE door open, just wide enough to slip through the gap. He didn't want to risk waking Michael if the mercy of sleep had been granted to him. And if Michael was awake, or in that half-aware state that had gripped him since the accident, then the light from the corridor would only increase his punishment. Sound didn't bother him—he seemed deaf as a post, to be honest—but Francis had seen the way sunlight or a bright room could send him into spasms. In the quiet of the cabin, Francis removed his tuxedo jacket and black trousers and hung them in the closet, next to the three suits he had bought for the trip. In the days before the Britannic set sail, he had stashed Michael in an upmarket quarter of Cork where he thought it least likely anyone would look for them. He had heard praises heaped on a local forger while he was in Mountjoy, and while he waited for his false papers from the man, he found a tailor who could provide him with clothes befitting his new station. He had paid a small fortune for the passports and a smaller but still substantial sum for his new wardrobe, but that investment was already paying dividends. More than looking the part, he was the part. For Michael, he had pulled two changes of clothes from the racks of a men's shop, guessing at the sizes. He would tell anyone who asked that his brother had lost so much weight that nothing fit him right. Michael had always been a stripling, but honestly, he was a skeleton now.

Just as Francis turned out the bedside lamp, there was a soft rapping at the door, barely audible but insistent enough to catch his attention. His heart skipped and he cast about for something, anything, he could wield in his defense—but no; if it was the visit he was dreading, it would not come with a genteel knock. That would be a foot-against-the-door sort of visit. He rose and pulled on his dressing gown, another new purchase, and cautiously turned the knob.

Anisette stood in the corridor, her fist poised for one more dainty knock. At the sight of Francis, she beamed; she had a bright, chipper, Oh, there you are! way about her.

"Sir Angus," she said, her expression shifting from smitten to solemn. "You must forgive me—well, forgive all of us. Here we were at the table, gabbing away about nonsense, while you carry this terrible burden. Not that your brother is a burden—far from it, I am sure—but you must think us the most insensitive, callous, heartless—"

"Really," Francis said, "it's—"

"Deplorable," she said, with a note of finality. "That's the word for it." Anisette lowered her voice to a whisper. "If I may ask, is everything… all right?"

"Yes, quite," he said. Since becoming Angus, he had come to rely on that word. "Or as well as can be expected, under the circumstances."

"Our sympathies are with you. We—well, I—I wanted you to know that."

This business of dining with heiresses was new to him. Should he be flattered by the attention or was this part of the routine? An after-dinner visit to a young man's bedroom seemed like a bold stroke, but perhaps in the world of the bejeweled and be-moneyed these late-night tête-à-têtes were as commonplace as Pimm's Cups and tea sandwiches. Anisette stood before him as if at a garden party; it was almost midnight and she looked as dewy as the morning. If she lowered her voice, it seemed not out of deference to the hour and the possibly scandalous nature of her intent, but rather out of a well-bred wish to respect Sir Angus's privacy regarding matters medical. The young Miss Bingham exuded calm and good grace, blithely unaware of—or, he had to consider, completely uninterested in—the disordered state of his robe and pajamas.

"Thank you for your concern," he said. "You're very kind."

She pressed one hand over her heart and canted her head to the side. Her lips puckered into something between a kiss and a pout. Tears were a distinct possibility. "No," she said. "You are very kind."

Before Francis could continue the volley of mutual admiration, her mood shifted: in a flash she was again all smiles and dry eyes, a vision of milk and apples. Her fingers plucked the sides of her gown and she bobbed, just slightly. Was that a curtsy?

"Well," she said. "Good night, then."

Francis closed the door and returned to bed. "Equo ne credite, Teucri!" he said aloud, into the darkness. "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes." The words felt clumsy in his mouth. He hadn't used his Latin in ages. If Michael were awake—if he weren't stone-deaf, Francis reminded himself—he would have no trouble with that one. Aeneid. Book Two. Give me something harder than that, he would say. I'm not a complete eejit, you know.


  • Advance praise for The World of Tomorrow:

"Entertaining . . . outsized . . . The World of Tomorrow views its teeming cast of characters as though from the observation deck of one of the city skyscrapers that seem to 'burst from the pages of a comic book.' . . . Reveling in bold twists and fantastic coincidences, Mathews's big, expressive debut inhabits a world that's neither of the past nor the future but wholly of the imagination."—Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal
  • "This Doctorow-esque debut novel shimmers with the swing and swank of 1939 New York . . . Mathews's urban epic is as rich and raucous as the city it celebrates."—O., The Oprah Magazine
  • "Mathews has a big, rambunctious talent . . . He is a wonderful scene-setter, whether he's describing the streets of Manhattan in the wee hours or conjuring the glories of then brand-new Rockefeller Center . . . The gusto of his prose and vividness of his characters keeps the novel gyrating with zany energy . . . An exuberant debut novel."—Michael Upchurch, Chicago Tribune
  • "The World of Tomorrow is that rarest of historical novels, a book that catches a moment in a jar, holds it aloft, and displays it for what it really is: Somebody else's day before tomorrow, the instant right before the future comes . . . Mathews's entire novel takes place over the course of one week in June of that year, culminating at the World's Fair itself, in a fast-paced finale worthy of a Scorcese long-take. And I love this about the book. I love the bright-eyed joy of it. The meticulous attention to detail that actually serves the plot . . . And I like that Mathews made this big book so intimate . . . One of the strengths of his story is the way it sprawls and loops. It finds odd little corners of time and place and character to get into and, in those corners, it finds both a balancing seriousness and a wideness of vision."—Jason Sheehan, NPR
  • "A promising writer . . . Mathews is an able prose stylist, and breathing life into so many diverse characters is no mean feat . . . The possibility of dramatic transformation amid historical ferment is at the heart of The World of Tomorrow, a fat novel stuffed with well-drawn characters grappling with different versions of themselves . . . Mathews has a flair for bringing street scenes to life, and his hopscotching narrative-from a Harlem jazz joint to a Bowery art studio to a Fifth Avenue palace-makes for an enjoyable tour of a vanished city . . . An affable debut novel."—John Freeman Gill, Washington Post
  • "This is one of those books that you jump into with its first line, like a diver into an inviting pond, and just happily swim for more than 500 pages . . . Mathews creates a crowded, bustling world that's insanely fun to inhabit. I didn't want this book to end . . . Just read it already."—Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times
  • "A madcap rollick tinged with a touch of menace, The World of Tomorrow delights in sending its characters pinging around pre-World War II New York, on the run from Irish gangsters, fascist regimes, and crazy relatives . . . Mathews's breezy epic captures a hustling spirit soon to be subsumed by a world at war . . . A dazzling literary debut."—Chris Vognar, Dallas Morning News
  • "The World of Tomorrow is a big American novel, filled with ordinary people on the verge of extraordinary changes. By week's end, each will have made a pivotal choice whose consequences ripple far beyond their own lives . . . As with many novels that feel quintessentially American, immigrants and refugees are lead characters . . . This is Mathews's first novel, but you would not know it from the depth of its characters or the tight-as-a-snare-drum pacing. He connects multiple narratives in gratifying and often surprising ways, which makes this nearly 600-page story fly by faster than many books half its size . . . Mathews infuses The World of Tomorrow with the sights, sounds, and smells of 1930s New York: the energy of the dancers in Harlem's Savoy Ballroom when the band is running hot; the island-unto-itself nature of a Park Avenue mansion; the savory delicacies from a pushcart on a crowded Bowery street . . . Mathews takes exquisite care in creating even marginal characters and locales . . . [He gives] a sense of an entire neighborhood in a few phrases . . . It's rare to read a book whose range and ambition so aptly fit its title. Page after page, The World of Tomorrow lives up to its notable name."Carol Iaciofano, WBUR
  • "Mathews writes extraordinarily well . . . His plot, rife with geopolitical intrigue, is nicely calibrated . . . His characters are likable and clever . . . They're Depression-weary, ready to transcend 'the sordid history of the Old World and looking boldly to the future.' This is an expansive theme, and from it, the first-time author has carved a commendable novel."—Kevin Canfield, Minneapolis Star Tribune
  • "Mathews deftly handles a large cast of characters in The World of Tomorrow . . . Perhaps the most vibrant character of all, however, is New York itself. In hard-boiled prose that ranges from gossipy to poetic, Mathews takes us from humble Bronx homes to rowdy Manhattan jazz clubs, from grimy back alleys to palatial Fifth Avenue estates . . . The World of Tomorrow is a sweeping, impressive accomplishment . . . Mathews has written an insightful immigrant epic, not to mention a first-class literary thriller."—Tom Deignan, BookPage
  • "What a beguiling debut Brendan Mathews has given us in The World of Tomorrow: clever, smart, ambitious, richly textured, and moving."
    Richard Russo, Pulitzer Prize-winning and New York Times bestselling author of Everybody's Fool
  • "Brash, bold, completely entertaining, and dazzling in its evocation of time and place, Brendan Mathews's splendid debut offers pleasures on every page."
    Andrea Barrett, National Book Award-winning author of The Air We Breathe and Ship Fever
  • "What a book! The World of Tomorrow is a panoramic tour-de-force, a huge undertaking peopled with convincing characters and animated by a persuasive historical accuracy. But beyond all that, my fascination was with the way Mathews assembled the novel, sifting and endlessly resifting his characters like sand, as life itself piled up right in front of me. The grim realities of America on the cusp of a second World War will be recognizable, but in this capable writer's hands, the individual characters-passionate, secretive, naïve, lucky, unlucky, and sometimes hapless-remain full of surprises to the last. They exist not against the backdrop of history, but tangled up in its complex, cruel, or absurd demands, desperate to find whatever space is allowed them for intimacy."—Ann Beattie, PEN/Malamud-winning author of The New Yorker Stories
  • "In this sweeping book of slippery secret identities, Brendan Mathews invites us to sink deeply into the hearts and minds of a score of colorful characters. Magically constructed and methodically researched, The World of Tomorrow is a vastly entertaining novel about the powerful pull of family, the weight of history, and the allure of escaping into a better life-all set against a vivid and unforgettable New York."—Eleanor Henderson, New York Times bestselling author of Ten Thousand Saints
  • "Masterful....This novel is a remarkably fast and exhilarating read, reminiscent of Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay....With the wit of a '30s screwball comedy and the depth of a thoroughly researched historical novel, this one grabs the reader from the beginning to its suspenseful climax."
    Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
  • "Mathews's first novel is all you could want in a piece of popular fiction. The tension never lets up, and the story is fast and mind-spinningly complicated....There's suspense, humor, love, of both the doomed and requited varieties....This novel should prove irresistible to anyone wanting a diverting read. It's quality stuff--and fun."

    David Keymer, Library Journal (Starred Review)
  • "As everything rolls toward an adrenaline-fueled finale, Mathews brilliantly creates characters who embody the esprit de corps of immigrants and movingly explores themes of class, society, race, and family. For fans of Michael Chabon and E. L. Doctorow."—Bill Kelly, Booklist, starred review
  • "Mathews' colorful debut novel examines the legacy of Irish political violence for a family in both the old country and New York during one busy week in 1939.... Among the many splashes of New York atmosphere, the strongest are snapshots of the city's prewar musical frenzy.... Mathews' debut shows impressive control of this narrative cornucopia."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
  • On Sale
    Jun 19, 2018
    Page Count
    560 pages
    Back Bay Books

    Brendan Mathews

    About the Author

    Brendan Mathews, a Fulbright Scholar to Ireland, has published stories in Glimmer Train, the Virginia Quarterly Review, and the Cincinnati Review, among other publications, and his fiction has twice appeared in The Best American Short Stories. He lives with his wife and four children in Lenox, Massachusetts, and teaches at Bard College at Simon’s Rock.

    Learn more about this author