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The Waterworks: A Novel Paperback – May 8, 2007


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 253 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (May 8, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812978196
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812978193
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.2 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #529,189 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Each novel by Doctorow is an entirely different experience, a journey of the imagination into hitherto uncharted territory. The Waterworks , set in the corrupt but hideously exciting New York of the decade following the Civil War, is the strangest such journey yet. The narrator, an elderly newspaperman named McIlvaine, recalls the bizarre events surrounding the disappearance of one of his paper's best freelance writers in 1871. Martin Pemberton was the son of Augustus Pemberton, a brutal, cunning man who had made a fortune as a war profiteer, then died, leaving his family mysteriously penniless. Martin was convinced he had seen his father alive, in a coach in the company of other old men; then Martin vanished. McIlvaine interests the municipal police, in the person of odd, incorruptible Captain Edmund Donne, and together they ferret out a weird scheme in which aging millionaires have paid the brilliant, cold-blooded Dr. Sartorius to preserve their lives in a state of suspended animation. The tale has the brightly lit intensity and surreality of a dream, heightened by McIlvaine's halting, amazed narration; and such is the power of Doctorow's imagination that the very city itself, its burgeoning modernity, its huge machines, its febrile citizenry, seems to become a major actor in the drama. World's Fair and Billy Bathgate were both given a human dimension by their child's-eye point of view. Here Doctorow is taking a larger risk by placing the reader at a much greater distance from the events and subduing his contemporary sensibility in favor of a wonderfully convincing 19th-century angle of vision. It is as if Edgar Allan Poe and Henry James had somehow combined their incompatible geniuses to bring this profoundly haunting fable to life.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From School Library Journal

YA?Newspaper editor McIlvaine investigates the disappearance of freelance journalist Martin Pemberton and uncovers a macabre scientific experiment that involves Pemberton's supposedly dead father and several other wealthy old men. The narrative's digressions contain the heart of the novel: Doctorow's presentation of New York in 1871 as impacted by the Industrial Revolution and the corruption of Boss Tweed's government. Although the book is not overly long, its complexity of diction will deter all but the most erudite YAs. Those who persevere will gain insights into journalism, post-Civil War society, and political corruption while considering the implications of medical experimentation, then and now.?Arlene Bathgate, Chantilly High School, VA
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

E. L. Doctorow's novels include The March, City of God, The Waterworks, Welcome to Hard Times, The Book of Daniel, Ragtime, Loon Lake, Lives of the Poets, World's Fair, and Billy Bathgate. His work has been published in thirty-two languages. Among his honors are the National Book Award, three National Book Critics Circle awards, two PEN/Faulkner awards, the Edith Wharton Citation for Fiction, the William Dean Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the presidentially conferred National Humanities Medal. E. L. Doctorow lives in New York.

Customer Reviews

A rare combination of literary grace and page-turner suspense.
Jeremy A. Simmons
Initially, the story is very interesteing and I had no problem becoming absorbed with the charaters, the story, and (especially) the setting.
gundeeosu1986
Somehow the ending of "The Waterworks" drags as the author seems to try to tie too many mysteries into neat bows.
Jim Duggins, Ph.D.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Rocco Dormarunno on June 10, 2004
Format: Paperback
E.L. Doctorow's THE WATERWORKS is likely to draw comparisons to Caleb Carr's THE ALIENIST. That would be comparing apples to oranges. Carr's 19th Century novels are wonderfully plot-driven with somewhat rounded characters. Doctorow's mystery is more cerebral: to me the solution was less interesting than how the characters got to it. I'm not going to re-hash the plot; there are several other reviewers who have already done so. What I think needs to be addressed is Doctorow's uncanny ability, no matter which of his historical novels you read, to keep late 20th century values out of the minds and mouths of his characters. This is a temptation that's tough to resist, but Doctorow pulls it off every time, and especially here. Considering the narrator is a 19th Century writer (journalist actually), 20th Century Doctorow must have used supreme discipline to ring true to the era. A great virtuouso performance.
Rocco Dormarunno, author of The Five Points
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Dai-keag-ity on September 26, 2005
Format: Paperback
In this novel set in New York City early in the 1870's, the Civil War has left its scar on society, even in the north. The city is filled with limbless ex-soldiers, begging on the streets, shooting morphine into their veins to satisfy the dead-end addiction they picked up in hospitals. In this society gripped by maliase, with its corrupt Grant Administration, the city-wide stranglehold of Boss Tweed, and looming bank collapses, a young newspaperman is confronted with a story too fantastic to be true. His friend has seen his evil tycoon father--a man months in the grave--riding through Manhattan's streets in broad daylight along with other old men, each supposedly long dead, all among the wealthiest individuals in America! The story unwraps from there to take us into the secret laboratory of a brilliant (though deliciously mad) scientist, a man of so far ahead of his time he accomplished feats of medical science unknown to us today in the 21st century. This novel of kidnapping, of faked demises, of medicine wedding science and of amoral genius squandered, is an atmospheric period thriller such as only E.L. Doctorow, New York's greatest living storyteller, could create.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 6, 1997
Format: Hardcover
I am a great E.L. Doctorow fan, and I love his ability to craft a tightly-woven historical narrative. I also love the way Doctorow can write in the first-person perspective, creating an empathy between reader and storyteller, as he did in "World's Fair" and "The Book of Daniel". In "The Waterworks," Doctorow creates a historical narravtive in the first person which tries to capture the essence of New York in the decade following the Civil War, and using a mystery as the hook to pull the reader in. As much as I am a fan of Doctorow's work, I have to say that here, he fails to pull it off.
The narrator of the book, a newspaper editor named McIlvaine, tracks the disappearence of a brilliant young writer named Pemberton. Pemberton disappeared after seeing a "ghost" of his thought-to-be deceased father, who left his widow and children penniliess, despite amassing a large fortune throughout his life. The ensuing pursuit of the truth (as Pemberton chases his father and McIlvaine chases Pemberton) through the streets of a very different New York City are dazzling in their detail and electricity, but the fault lies in the execution of the story: Doctorow simply does not effectively keep the reader interested in the story, and thus it can get quite confusing at times. My suspicion is that Mr. Doctorow did not just come up with the story and then try to write a novel about it. My theory is that this novel is actually an expansion of an essay he wrote a couple of years before. "The Waterworks" was written in 1994. In 1992, Doctorow wrote an essay called "The Nineteenth New York," which is included in a collection of his essays entitled: "Jack London, Hemmingway, and the Constitution" [Random House, 1993].
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Nathaniel Tapley on December 7, 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Apologies for the awful pun, but I think a little someting is needed to counterbalance the ponderous over-readings that have been in some of the reviews.
To my mind, Doctorow is, in this novel utterly successful in what he sets out to do, the only problem is whether or not what he is doing is something you want to read.
I feel it is unfair to suggest that this novel is in any way attempting to be a "Gravity's Rainbow", when it seems clear that this book is something of a literary joke. It is much less that "Gravity's Rainbow", because it never aims to be anything comparable (and those of us who appreciate a novel that isn't as preciously over-stated as that one will breathe a sigh of relief).
Doctorow aims here to create a Gothic melodrama, and, using twentieth century writing techniques to show both the flaws and the strengths of the period piece. Those who despised the ending, I would send back to Poe, and ask them to find any of his stories in which the ending doesn't look tacked on, or "incomplete" as one review has it.
Doctorow succeeds utterly in giving us a piece of 19th century popular literature, my problem is that I don't feel the form he has chosen has given him the scope to examine his strengths. It is a wonderful book, having a wonderful atmosphere and respect for his souce material, but I miss the raging Doctorow of "The Book of Daniel" or "Lives of the Poets". In my view, he is one of the best novelists of men, and the impotence we can feel. that is present here, but never exploited as it is to such good effect in his other books.
This is a good book, but not a great one, and, unfortunately, not one of his best.
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