BOOK TITLE: The Magnificent Esme Wells
BOOK AUTHOR: Adrienne Sharp
April 10th 2018
GENRES: Coming of Age, Literary Fiction
CHECK IT OUT AT: Goodreads
BUY IT: Buy on Amazon
From the nationally bestselling author of The True Memoirs of Little K, a deeply felt and historically detailed tale of family, loss, and love, told by an irrepressible young girl—the daughter of a two-bit gangster and a movie showgirl—growing up in golden-age Hollywood and Las Vegas in its early days.
Esme Silver has always taken care of her charming ne’er do well father, Ike Silver, a small-time crook with dreams of making it big with Bugsy Siegel. Devoted to her daddy, Esme is often his “date” at the racetrack, where she amiably fetches the hot dogs while keeping an eye to the ground for any cast-off tickets that might be a winner. In awe of her mother, Dina Wells, Esme is more than happy to be the foil that gets the beautiful Dina into meetings and screen tests with some of Hollywood’s greats.
When Ike gets an opportunity to move to Vegas—and what could at last be his big break, to help the man she knows as “Benny” open the Flamingo hotel—life takes an unexpected turn for Esme. A stunner like her mother, the young girl catches the attention of Nate Silver, one of the Strip’s most powerful men.
Narrated by the twenty-year-old Esme, The Magnificent Esme Wells moves between pre-WWII Hollywood and post-war Las Vegas—a golden age when Jewish gangsters and movie moguls are often indistinguishable in looks and behavior. Esme’s voice—sharp, observant, with a quiet, mordant wit—chronicles the rise and fall and further fall of her complicated parents, as well as her own painful reckoning with love and life. A coming of age story with a tinge of noir, and a tale that illuminates the promise and perils of the American dream and its dreamers, The Magnificent Esme Wells is immersive, moving, and compelling.
I’ve been having a hard time writing this review, because it brought up so many emotions. First I was going to tell the story of the relationship I
don’t have with my dad, and how it went from hero worship to realizing his flaws to seeing I was better without him in my, and my daughters’, lives. But I decided not to give it the head space, at least for now. It needs a book, not a blog post.
Reading The Magnificent Esme Wells brought up all the hero worship/realizing his flaws part of being my dad’s daughter. Ike Silver, Esme’s dad, is a lot like my dad, or the better version of my dad. Ike believes he’s smarter than any system, seeing those that work hard as suckers. He’s a charming and likable man, though, and would do just about anything for his wife and daughter.
(That last part is where he veers from my own father, who is all about what everyone can do for him, including his own children. He’s never realized the most important thing for children is knowing they have a soft place to land when their world falls apart.)
Esme Wells is an amazing character, an incredibly complex character, both childlike and wise beyond her years. She is early Las Vegas personified, with sex appeal, beauty, bravado, and a sort of brash innocence trying to find a place in the world, all exploited by mobsters and money men. As the narrator of her own story, Esme narrates her own coming-of-age, and readers watch as she goes from a wise ingenue to heartbroken and world weary, all by her 21st birthday.
In The Magnificent Esme Wells, Adrienne Sharp paints a clear, colorful picture of pre-World War II Hollywood, when anything seemed possible, and then Las Vegas after WWII, where pretty much everything is possible. With Esme, Sharp gives readers a character that watches as both lose their nativity, which mirrors Esme’s own life in so many ways. Esme is a witty and observant voice, telling an incredibly compelling story with emotion and honesty.
I finished Esme Wells with the perfect blend of reader emotions: With a sigh of contentment for story, but with more than a little sadness that it was over.
I highly recommend The Magnificent Esme Wells. It’s satisfying, witty, and honest, with a strong female narrator that’s naive and skeptical. A brilliant combination.