The Magnificent Esme Wells: A Review

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 story 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.

-Synopsis via Goodreads

I was provided a galley from Harper Books in exchange for an honest review.

The Magnificent Esme Wells by Adrienne Sharp was a very enjoyable jaunt into historical fiction.  For me personally, this had all of the right ingredients for a strong historical fiction read. The Golden Age of Hollywood.  Gangsters. The creation and rise of Las Vegas.  Showgirls. It was all morphed into a great fictional account of the time featuring an honest, witty, and intriguing narrator in Esme Wells.

Esme takes the reader between Hollywood and Las Vegas so the story alternates in time.  I really liked this feature of the story because part of what Sharp is trying to do is compare the power and crookedness of Hollywood and Vegas; primarily through Hollywood moguls like Louis B. Mayer and casino bosses/gangsters.  As much reading as I have done on both of those subjects the comparison, while it seems obvious, did not entirely occur to me until now.  They were all immigrants, most were Jewish and they are responsible for their own fortunes.  They also, ultimately, experienced sad downfalls of their power.

Along with a fascinating account of Hollywood and Las Vegas, this novel is also a story of dreamers.  Esme’s parents have dreams.  They are lofty dreams that consume them.  Dina Wells wants to be one of Louis B. Mayers MGM stars.  She is not satisfied with being just another dancer on the lot.  She wants her name at the top of the marquee.  Ike Silver is looking for money and power.  However, he cannot stay away from the race track and his next big win.  Both of her parents are desperate to achieve their dreams so much so that they let it consume them.  I am not giving away much when I admit that neither of them are huge successes.  Despite being along for the ride of constant failure, Esme has her own goals; which involve becoming a Las Vegas star.

I enjoyed this one.  I had not really read a historical fiction like this in awhile.  I had some heavier topic driven reads before picking this one up so it was nice to follow up with this.  However, much to my dismay, Esme’s story ends on a sad one.  I will not give specifics but I will end by saying that in Vegas…the house always wins.

Thank you Harper Books for providing my copy to review!  The Magnificent Esme Wells by Adrienne Sharp will be released on April 10th!



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