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Metropolis: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

Elizabeth Gaffney
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $13.95
Kindle Price: $7.99
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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

Elizabeth Gaffney’s magnificent, Dickensian Metropolis captures the splendor and violence of America’s greatest city in the years after the Civil War, as young immigrants climb out of urban chaos and into the American dream.

On a freezing night in the middle of winter, Gaffney’s nameless hero is suddenly awakened by a fire in P. T. Barnum’s stable, where he works and sleeps, and soon finds himself at the center of a citywide arson investigation.

Determined to clear his name and realize the dreams that inspired his hazardous voyage across the Atlantic, he will change his identity many times, find himself mixed up with one of the city’s toughest and most enterprising gangs, and fall in love with a smart, headstrong, and beautiful young woman. Buffeted by the forces of fate, hate, luck, and passion, our hero struggles to build a life–just to stay alive–in a country that at first held so much promise for him.

Epic in sweep, Metropolis follows our hero from his arrival in New York harbor through his experiences in Barnum’s circus, the criminal underground, and the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, and on to a life in Brooklyn that is at once unique and poignantly emblematic of the American experience. In a novel that is wonderfully written, rich in suspense, vivid historical detail, breathtakingly paced, Elizabeth Gaffney captures the wonder and magic of a rambunctious city in a time of change. Metropolis marks a superb fiction debut.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Paris Review advisory editor Gaffney crafts a richly atmospheric debut in which a bewildered immigrant loses his heart to a tough Irish lass in 1860s New York. Introduced first as "the stableman," the young hero finally identified as Frank Harris fled his native Germany to start a new life. But he's quickly framed by a master criminal and arsonist, then kidnapped by Beatrice O'Gamhna and told he must join the notorious Whyo gang—or else. Frank's luck veers from terrible to wonderful and back again in this suspenseful novel, and the jobs he acquires—laying cobblestones, working in sewers, building the Brooklyn Bridge—allow Gaffney to describe the burgeoning activity of a city absorbing its immigrants into projects that increase the power of the metropolis. Her portrait of the real but poorly documented Whyo gang gives them a handsome, despicable leader, his seemingly benign but powerful mother and a secret means of communicating described in Asbury's The Gangs of New York. Two graduates of the Women's Medical College who offer abortions to poor women, a black Civil War veteran who befriends Frank, and a benevolent business man with Dickensian resonances add more period color. While it never attains the narrative urgency of Doctorow's evocations of 19th-century New York, the novel's well-researched historical background, enlivened by descriptions of the criminal underworld and the off-beat love story, should ensure wide interest.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

Gaffney's début novel tells the story of a young German immigrant who is drawn into the criminal underworld of eighteen-seventies New York. The progress of the book's hero—a Zelig let loose in Hogan's Alley—which takes him from Barnum's circus to the outer orbit of Tammany Hall, suggests both an indictment and a validation of the nascent American dream. Gaffney marshals formidable research into an engaging narrative that explores opium dens, the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, and the secret language of criminals, and she writes with arresting lyricism about the hands that built the city. The book's complicated plot deliberately evokes nineteenth-century precursors, but its characters are too vividly drawn to come off simply as figures of period pastiche. Despite an occasional stylistic anachronism, the novel is, like New York itself, satisfyingly dense and complex, and it reserves judgment about whether American optimism is ultimately a blessing or a curse.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

Product Details

  • File Size: 767 KB
  • Print Length: 496 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1400061504
  • Publisher: Random House (March 1, 2005)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #133,076 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sprawl March 17, 2005
There is much to be admired in the 450 pages of Metropolis, a story of post Civil War New York. Unfortunately, the admirable would have fitted into 200 odd pages, leaving the reader wading through an extra half a book. Gaffney's done her research. Unlike Kevin Baker's hyperkinetic Dreamland, Gaffney does a fine job sorting 19th Century New York myths from reality. If only she'd been harder on herself. Too often you'll find a moment of genuine drama slowed to an unbearable pace. For instance, Gaffney reckons the middle of a life-threatening fire is a good time for a quick literary tour of Barnum's circus. Instead of reading on, this reader thought the fire was a fine place to put the book down for the night. In other words, Gaffney doesn't know when to let the story flow and when to occasionally indulge herself. It makes the book seem heavier than it should be, unravelling all the months of research that must have gone into it. Yet it's hard to forgive an author who strives so hard for historical realism and then punctures her own balloon with anachronisms. Would a stable hand really think that he 'identified' with a horse 150 years ago? Whichever editor let this book slip out should have their fingers rapped. Another few months of work might have produced something memorable, but you get the feeling that a book this heavy can only sink like a stone.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written, fluid novel of old NY March 29, 2006
In its essence, Metropolis is a love story between a German immigrant in NYC in the late 1800's and the teenage wife of the Irish gang leader.

Though earnest, honest, and hard-working, Harris is on the run from the law for a crime he didn't commit. The Irish gang takes him to use for their own nefarious purposes, and assigns Beatrice the job of turning him into a credible Irishman to avoid the police and other gangs.

The story is minutely researched, and brings in real people from the era, including the main character himself, mentioned in David McCullough's "The Great Bridge" as a worker who fell off the Brooklyn Bridge during construction and lived. The historical detail is used well, adding a strong sense of an almost magical place of heroic bridges overhead, secret sewer tunnels below, an era of vicious but honorable gangs counterbalancing the venality of the police and municipal adminstration. But Gaffeny never gets bogged down in these details, using them only to complement the intertwined stories of Harris and Beatrice.

The novel reminded me of "A Winter's Tale" by Mark Helprin, about a thief and set during the same period, and obviously pulls extensive detail from "The Gangs of NY."

Overall, very enjoyable to read and highly recommended.
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41 of 52 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars More Aptly "Necropolis" March 20, 2005
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
While slogging through some 450 pages of "Metropolis", the reader may wonder exactly what Elizabeth Gaffney is trying to convey in this plodding saga of post-Civil War New York City. At its core, it is the tale of a young German immigrant on the lam after being framed in the arson of P.T. Barnum's American Museum. He soon finds himself in the throws of the "Whyos", a secret Irish gang of New York's infamous Five Points, through which he finds work first on a road crew, later as a sewer man of New York's famed subterranean maze, and finally as a member of the construction crew building the Brooklyn Bridge. Such ambitious fare certainly holds much promise for the historical novel fan, but Gaffney clutters the plot and the history with a ham handed dose of feminism and related social topics. To make matters worse, the utopian Whyos who, we are to believe, have maintained their stealth and secrecy by communicating through a complex language of song. While Gaffney portrays the Whyos as tough and ruthless, these ludicrous singing bandits seem closer to "The West Side Story" than to "The Gangs of New York." Our young German hero - let's call him Frank Harris - the last of his several aliases - falls in love with the redoubtable Beatrice: pickpocket, whore, sometime murderer, and mol of the Whyos boss. But in Gaffney's New York, girls like Beatrice are the salt of society, the true brains and fabric of both legal and illegal New York, held back only by men and the puritanical Victorian social mores of the day.

The book could have survived all of this, were it not for Gaffney's total lack of atmosphere, suspense, or pace in the story.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Imaginative December 30, 2007
Format:Kindle Edition
I like the notion of violent gangsters chosen for their vocal pitch. I like the idea of the sewermen in the municipal bath house, and their fear of the "ghost", the very human way they justify its existence even though the truth is painfully self-evident. I like the way the plot hovers just above mystical and supernatural. I like the juxtaposition of song versus gore, bridge versus sewer, poverty versus wealth (and so on- it is a book of extremes). Does it have to be absolutely plausible to be a fascinating story? For my money, this "guy gets girl" saga is stronger for its whimsical elements. Some concepts in the book will make me pay more attention, now, to the sounds in the city. Is that really a screeching cat? Or could it be a pomaded, red-lipped, axe-blade-booted killer communicating with his lackeys?
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Book.
A n excellent read. I will await Her next book with hope that it will not be long in coming.
Published 9 days ago by sylvia sears
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
An adventure in the city of days gone by!
Published 3 months ago by bill bond
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great characters and the story always kept me on the edge of my seat.
Published 4 months ago by btrusk
2.0 out of 5 stars A Very Disappointing Book
I was shocked when I read Gaffney's credits to discover that she teaches writing at the university level, because I found the writing rather clumsy. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Barbara S.
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Intense and interesting historical novel, taken from some real life events.
Published 4 months ago by ptycake
5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging tale
Intriguing plot with interesting characters. I enjoyed the glimpse into the lives of the gang members, as well as the working poor, struggling to make a decent living in New York... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Michael Loader
4.0 out of 5 stars Slow start great end
Once I got into the story I really enjoyed reading it. The book was a little tough to follow at the start but don"t give it. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Laurie Irwin
1.0 out of 5 stars boring.
Couldn't read it! boring.
Published 4 months ago by MARTHA DAVIS
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed
This should have been a good book. The historical bits were interesting; the setting was well described; but the characters were not engaging and the story line seemed to lump... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Donya A. Leeman
2.0 out of 5 stars Did not enjoy
Sorry Elizabeth Gaffney but I did not enjoy your book.
Published 5 months ago by jimwilkinson2000
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