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.