The Magnificent Esme Wells: A Novel (Paperback)
From the nationally bestselling author of The True Memoirs of Little K, a deeply felt and historically detailed novel 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 may be winners.
In awe of her mother, Dina Wells, Esme is more than happy to be the foil who 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, in 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 Stein, 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 postwar Las Vegas—a golden age when Jewish gangsters and movie moguls were often indistinguishable in looks and behavior. Esme’s voice—sharp, observant, and 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.
About the Author
Adrienne Sharp is the critically acclaimed author of the story collection White Swan, Black Swan, a Barnes and Noble Discover Book and a national bestseller; the novel The Sleeping Beauty, a Barnes and Noble Discover Alumni book and one of Booklist’s ten best first novels of 2005; and the novel The True Memoirs of Little K, a finalist for the California Book Award and translated into six languages.
“Sharp’s novel, like Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach (2017), is propulsive and profound.”
— Booklist (starred review)
“Consider it your good luck to join Esme Wells as she comes of age with the glamour, gangsters, and big dreams of Hollywood and Las Vegas of the 30s and 40s. Like its narrator, this novel is magnificent.”
— Ann Hood, author of The Book That Matters Most and The Knitting Circle
“Adrienne Sharp sure can WRITE! And her newest novel, The Magnificent Esme Wells, does all the best things: it transports, amuses, delights and heartbreaks. What a gem of a book.”
— Jennifer Gilmore, New York Times bestselling author of Golden Country and The Mothers
“WWII-era LA and postwar Vegas come vibrantly alive in this detailed, noir portrait of a Paper Moon-style childhood.”
“This glittering noirish tragedy, with its lushly imagined period landscape and subtle feminist trajectory, is both fun to read and sad to think about.”
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Esme’s dramatic and irresistible story sparkles with psychological nuance, sumptuous detail, and vivid historical perceptions as Sharp tracks the high wattage success and violence of tough Jews building movie and casino empires while Hitler bloodied Europe. With real-life figures, mushroom clouds rising from desert test sites, and arresting insights into the power and vulnerability of a daring woman performer, Sharp’s novel, like Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach (2017), is propulsive and profound. ”
— Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
“Adrienne Sharp brilliantly recreates the tawdry magic of twin dream machines, studio-era Hollywood and early Las Vegas, in this tale of . . . the scrappy, precocious Esme Wells, her go-for-broke parents, and the toll these dreams took on their dreamers.”
— Janet Fitch, New York Times bestselling author of White Oleander
“How Esme keeps her head, if not her innocence, among these fast-living, fast-dying Vegas and Hollywood stars makes Adrienne Sharp’s novel fascinating and rich with secrets she tells with wit and gusto.”
— Rosellen Brown, author of Before and After
“This lovely novel, alternately dark and funny, is a powerful examination of both the nature of love and the will to survive.”
— Ayelet Waldman, author of Love and Treasure
“Violent and voluptuous; heartbreaking and profound, The Magnificent Esme Wells is about the losses we endure, and the love we keep betting on, despite the odds. Truly, a showstopper.”
— Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You and Cruel Beautiful World
“Esme is street-smart and tough but vulnerable. . . . a memorable character in an unforgettable era.”
— Louisa Ermelino, Publishers Weekly
“[I]n this lush saga of the new American West... Adrienne Sharp has given us a protagonist to hope for and a powerful new version of the American dream.”
— Ron Carlson