The Mag­nif­i­cent Esme Wells: A Novel

  • Review
By – February 21, 2018

In her lat­est nov­el, The Mag­nif­i­cent Esme Wells, Adri­enne Sharp takes her read­ers on a jour­ney from pre-World War II Hol­ly­wood to post­war Las Vegas. It’s a short trip in terms of miles, but, oh what we view on the way. Our guide is Esme Wells, née Sil­ver, a pre­co­cious, per­cep­tive beau­ty even at six years old. Raised by two dys­func­tion­al par­ents — her moth­er, Dina, an emo­tion­al­ly unsta­ble Hol­ly­wood chorine; and her father, Ike, a small-time crook and full-time gam­bler — Esme has to fig­ure out how to nav­i­gate life by her­self. Denied a for­mal edu­ca­tion because her par­ents’ fluc­tu­at­ing for­tune forces them to be con­stant­ly on the move, she learns most of life’s lessons from observ­ing her par­ents. She becomes adept at being a schemer, and learns how to ambush” a man. Most cru­cial­ly, she is well schooled in lov­ing some­one she doesn’t trust.

The author repeat­ed­ly refers to Las Vegas as Sur­vival City,” but the descrip­tive word could just as well apply to Esme. Although the read­er might view her as a vic­tim, used by every­one of impor­tance in her life, Esme doesn’t see her­self as one. She man­ages to sur­vive and even suc­ceed with­out bit­ter­ness or self-pity. While this doesn’t make her mag­nif­i­cent, it sure­ly makes her remarkable.

With par­tic­u­lar poignan­cy, Sharp depicts the strong bond between child and par­ent — par­tic­u­lar­ly between Esme and Ike — and the com­plex­i­ty of roman­tic love as expe­ri­enced by Esme. The author also adept­ly explores the price paid for ambi­tion and greed, and the per­va­sive des­per­a­tion that comes with it.

Hol­ly­wood and Las Vegas are char­ac­ters in this nov­el as much as the peo­ple. Sharp’s depic­tions of these cities and their cre­ation by Jew­ish gang­sters and movie moguls are high­ly authen­tic; many of the char­ac­ters are actu­al his­tor­i­cal figures.

While not ter­ri­bly pro­found, The Mag­nif­i­cent Esme Wells is a com­pelling read with nuanced char­ac­ters and many insights into human nature.

Discussion Questions