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In the tradition of The Gangs of New York and Paradise Alley, Metropolis revisits 19th-century New York, fusing fact and fiction to capture the moment when a culture based on corruption and greed began to yield to one of hope and industry. Elizabeth Gaffney provides a keenly focused historical perspective the old-fashioned way -- by creating a boisterous tale of flesh-and-blood immigrants all yearning for the American Dream. Her characters long for success but also for love, a goal that seems unattainable amid the filth and violence on the streets.
Gaffney's narrative is built around an honest, pragmatic German immigrant with a penchant for being in the wrong place at the most inopportune of times. When he's set up for torching the building that houses P. T. Barnum's menagerie, he finds himself with few options but to join the ranks of a notorious Irish gang, the Whyos. Falling in love with his protector, a ruthless pickpocket named Beatrice, Gaffney's hero is clued in to the gang's elaborate schemes as well as their secret musical language.
As fraught with suspense as it is rich in period detail, Metropolis draws readers into a New York both older than the Brooklyn Bridge and more labyrinthine than the sewer system that serves the burgeoning metropolis. (Summer 2005 Selection)
The pace and density of Metropolis are rewarding yet stubbornly unpredictable. The book's vivid tableaus (the sewermen's bathhouse, with rows of tubs and no time for lingering) and high drama (Whyo justice pitted against Whyo love) are offset by close study of how urban planning, construction projects and contagious illnesses actually work. All this moves circuitously but firmly toward a finale that validates all the sprawl and unexpectedness of what has come before.
The New York Times
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. Agent, Leigh Feldman. (Mar. 8) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Gaffney's sprawling first novel drops readers smack in the middle of New York City circa 1868. Incidents from history-a fire at P.T. Barnum's American Museum and an explosion aboard a ferry-mingle with events conjured by the author's imagination as German immigrant Johannes gets mired in troubles seemingly beyond his control. The unfolding story showcases two groups, Irish Catholics and German Lutherans, and Gaffney's well-drawn characters seamlessly introduce themes ranging from the lure of gangs to the dangers facing those constructing the Brooklyn Bridge. Race and gender relations also figure prominently, and an understated feminist slant is threaded throughout Johannes's romance with an Irish girl. Though one wishes that the author had occasionally injected dates to clarify the passage of time, this remains an engaging and suspenseful work-and required reading for anyone interested in urban affairs or simply in need of a good, stick-to-the-ribs escape from today's sociopolitical realities. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/04.]-Eleanor J. Bader, Brooklyn, NY Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Dark criminous deeds abound in Paris Review editor Gaffney's colorful debut, a melodrama set in the late 1860s in New York City's notorious Five Points. The story's vivid actions exfoliate from the suspicious fire that ravages P.T. Barnum's American Museum, making German immigrant stableman Georg Geiermeir a hunted man. Briefly detained in the Tombs and then released, Geirmeir attracts the attention of Irish immigrant "hot-corn girl" and pickpocket Beatrice O'Gamhna, a member of the female branch of the Points' dangerous criminal gang, the Whyos. When the murdered body of a pregnant girl is discovered in the wreckage of the Barnum fire, Geirmeir finds both refuge and further peril among the Whyos (who rename him "Frank Harris"), having been recruited by their charismatic bisexual leader, "Dandy Johnny" Dolan, the figurehead behind whom looms the real criminal mastermind: black-hearted Mother Meg Dolan. Gaffney's busy plot-much lavish detail is drawn from Herbert Asbury's classic social study Gangs of New York (also the inspiration for Martin Scorsese's eponymous feature film)-encompasses the building of the Brooklyn Bridge and the heroic efforts of the pioneers of women's medicine to rescue impoverished girls from prostitution, disease, and premature death. Gaffney's first outing isn't as wonderful as it might have been: some of its action is quite redundant, the seams of her formidable research clearly show, and her Trollopian habit of inserting loquacious authorial commentary at odd moments often unsettles the tone. But the narrative line is strong, and the text is enlivened by such brilliantly imagined characters as the aforementioned Dolans, the conflicted Geirmeir (haunted bymemories of the family he left behind in Germany), and the Bill Sykes of this consciously Dickensian novel: freelance informer, murderer, and Geirmeir's implacable nemesis, the vile "Undertaker," Luther Undertoe. Luther alone is worth the price of admission, but there's much more to like in Gaffney's rip-roaring, agreeably ungainly, outrageously entertaining tale.