Spotlight: The Magnificent Esme Wells by Adrienne Sharp


Book Blurb & Info

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.

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“If you liked Jennifer Egan's Manhattan Beach, this novel offers a similarly immersive mid-20th-century experience, featuring a heroine as interesting, tough, and tragic as Egan's Anna Kerrigan, with similar Daddy issues and gangland connections. 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, 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.”
— Booklist, Starred Review

“Esme is street-smart and tough but vulnerable… a memorable character in an unforgettable era.”
— Louisa Ermelino, Publishers Weekly

“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

“In The Magnificent Esme Wells, Adrienne Sharp brilliantly recreates the tawdry magic of twin dream machines, studio-era Hollywood and early Las Vegas, in this tale of a boom- and-bust childhood 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

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

“Brilliant Esme carries the day in this lush saga of the new American West as she struggles from girl to showgirl to headliner and the two cities she knows, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, grow up around her. Adrienne Sharp has given us a protagonist to hope for and a powerful new version of the American dream.”
—Ron Carlson

“Amidst the glittering allure of 1940s and 50s Hollywood and Las Vegas, young Esme Wells tends to her petty crook dad and wannabe star mom, turning showgirl—and moll—alongside a star-studded cast including Bugsy Siegel, Virginia Hill and Jimmy Durante. 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

“What a lively invitation to follow, up close, a life so different from most of ours that it’s like a (dark-shadowed) fairy tale. 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

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

Author Info

Adrienne Sharp entered the world of ballet at age seven and trained at the prestigious Harkness Ballet in New York. She received her M.A. with honors from the Writing Seminars at the Johns Hopkins University and was awarded a Henry Hoyns Fellowship at the University of Virginia. She has been a fiction fellow at MacDowell, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and the Squaw Valley Writer’s Conference. She is the author of "White Swan, Black Swan," "The Sleeping Beauty," "The True Memoirs of Little K," and the forthcoming "The Magnificent Esme Wells."


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