It 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 ... His entire novel takes place over the course of one week in June of that year, culminating at the 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 isn't just a 1,000-word digression on mittens or taxi cabs but actually serves the plot. The sense that every single character in it seems somehow infected with this sense that the past is a curse that must be borne only until tomorrow comes. And I like that Mathews made this big book so intimate ... One of the strengths of Mathews's 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 that makes it somehow all okay.
New York City on the cusp of World War II is brought to glorious, messy life in Brendan Mathews’ sprawling debut saga ... Mathews deftly handles a large cast of characters in The World of Tomorrow. On a collision course with the Dempseys is an IRA killer, an ambitious photographer fleeing Nazi-dominated Europe and a troubled heiress, among others. 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. Perhaps it could have been 50 or so pages shorter, and the ghostly appearance of an Irish literary icon may push past the cusp of believability. Still, Mathews has written an insightful immigrant epic, not to mention a first-class literary thriller.
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 is an able prose stylist, and breathing life into so many diverse characters is no mean feat. But the book, like the men and women who populate its pages, is riven by conflicting identities. For all the craft Mathews lavishes on these intricate backstories, the sensational plot that binds the characters together feels like a somewhat facile screen story grafted onto a literary novel ... Mathews’s broad scope diminishes his story’s intimacy and the reader’s emotional engagement. Still, 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. The World of Tomorrow is an appealing if uneven debut by a promising writer.
...[an] entertaining if at times exhaustingly madcap tale ... A story this outsized would be incomplete if it only featured the living. Michael was badly wounded by the explosion in Ireland and in his shell-shocked state he is visited by the ghost of the mystic poet William Butler Yeats, who leads him on a quest through Manhattan for a fortune teller who will reveal the directives of the 'spiritus mundi,' 'the universal memory that binds us all.' Reveling in bold twists and fantastic coincidences, Mr. Mathews’s big, expressive debut inhabits a world that’s neither of the past nor the future but wholly of the imagination.
The World of Tomorrow is admirably fearless, daring to tread territory staked by no less than E.L. Doctorow’s finest work, the 1985 novel-cum-memoir World’s Fair. Mathews’s is a long book, full of back story and digression, which is no knock on it per se; for what is a good novel — or a good life — but a long series of digressions? Unfortunately, Mathews’s work also demonstrates another truism about a novel, which is that writing one is like setting off into a trackless wood. The slightest misreading of your compass can leave you lost in the trees, many miles from where you wanted to go ... If Mathews is trying to show that humans are caught up in their own preoccupations even in the face of the most dire events, fine — after all, the Trump era proves it every day — but the point is muted by his own meanderings as he careens from the picaresque to the thriller. For far too long, Mathews follows loose plot ends and eccentric minor characters ... Mathews is capable of much better than this. In fact, he is capable of a great deal, and we can only hope it’s not long before he plunges into the woods again.
Mathews 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 Mathew's prose and vividness of his characters keeps the novel gyrating with zany energy for its first several hundred pages ... The book loses some of its luster in its last stretch, as plot mechanics and action sequences take over. The final scenes are cinematic, but not as beguiling as the preposterously complicated setup. Still, Mathews has a big, rambunctious talent that promises great things.
Mathews’ characters are likable and clever. His plot, rife with geopolitical intrigue, is nicely calibrated. And he packs his debut with period details that evoke the vibrancy of the Savoy Ballroom and the magnificence of the then-new RCA Building (now known as 30 Rockefeller Plaza). For all its strengths, though, this is a good novel needlessly stretched to 500-plus pages ... Mathews writes extraordinarily well, but he has a habit of interrupting himself with protracted digressions that add many extraneous pages. Even bit players get lengthy back stories. Midway through the book, for instance, we meet a doctor who has a tiny role — but that doesn’t stop Mathews from detailing the physician’s family tree, newspaper-reading habits and digestive frustrations ... This is an expansive theme, and from it, the first-time author has carved a commendable novel, even if it’s not the epic he’d like it to be.
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.
Mathews’ debut shows impressive control of this narrative cornucopia, although his reliance on characters’ thoughts to propel the plot can be tiresome. It’s not Doctorow’s Ragtime, but there’s a similar feel in this impressive, wide-ranging debut.
...[a] masterful debut novel ... Despite its length, this novel is a remarkably fast and exhilarating read, reminiscent of Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Like a juggler keeping multiple balls in the air, Mathews regularly adds new characters and their complicated stories to the volatile mix, without losing track of the original ones. 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.