cover image The World of Tomorrow

The World of Tomorrow

Brendan Mathews. Little, Brown, $28 (560p) ISBN 978-0-316-38219-9

Three Irish brothers tumble through New York during an eventful two weeks in June 1939, in Mathews’s masterful debut novel. Francis, temporarily released to attend his father’s funeral from the prison where he was being held for distributing pornographic literature, is in possession of some IRA cash he bungled into in the wake of a bomb blast. Francis has conceived an audacious plan to make it to America posing as a Scottish aristocrat, and is turning a few American heiresses’ heads in the process. With him is his brother Michael, on leave from the seminary for the same funeral, who was shell-shocked by the explosion that netted Francis his money and has struck up a friendship with the ghost of Irish poet William Butler Yeats. Their older brother, Martin, is already in New York, where he is trying to make a living as a jazz musician, to the chagrin of his politically connected in-laws. Once reunited, the brothers are pursued by Cronin, a former IRA hit man who has retired to a farm on the Hudson River, and his menacing boss Gavigan, who concocts a sinister plan involving the visit of the British royalty to the World’s Fair being held at that time in New York. 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. Agent: Gail Hochman, Brandt & Hochman Literary. (Sept.)