Guide The Waterworks: A Novel

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We are told about his funeral early on in the narrative — but it soon becomes clear that although he fell seriously ill, Augustus did not die. Martin spots him in the back of a stagecoach, digs up his grave and discovers it is occupied by one of those nameless children. When he sets off to find his living dead daddy he too disappears. The rest of the narration sees McIlvaine trying to piece together the mystery and chase down the errant Pembertons with the aid of Captain Donne — that New York stalwart, the lonely honest cop working in a den of thieves, brutes and swindlers.

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Much of the city that McIlvaine describes comes straight from the history books, and the established geography of New York. A place of ghosts and shadows, maybe, but one that had real shape in the physical world.


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The streets, their names, their shapes, the directions they go in. But on top of this spooky verisimilitude, Doctorow also conjures an alternate reality.

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A man whose investigations call into question the entire morality of the pursuit of knowledge. Suffice to say that it makes absolute sense when McIlvaine says:. I could not sleep, I was haunted… not by ghosts, but by Science. Waterworks to my mind is a classic of the form. As well as working at the ideas about science and history developed in The Difference Engine , it also takes direct inspiration from writers like HG Wells and Edgar Allan Poe.

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To finish this act of persuasion I can think of nothing better than to turn to the very beginning of the book:. Women were attracted to him for this — they imagined him as some sort of poet, though he was if anything a critic, a critic of his life and times. So when he went around muttering that his father was still alive, those of us who heard him, and remembered his father, felt he was speaking of the persistence of evil in general. A short book, for Doctorow, that tries to resurrect New York City by presenting and solving a conventional, if slightly supernatural, mystery.

It should have been compelling, but its relentlessly downbeat tone and affected style made it difficult to finish quickly or enjoy slowly. He received an A. He served in the U.

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Army Signal Corps from He was editor-in-chief for Dial Press from to , where he also served as vice president and publisher in his last year on staff. It was at this time that he decided to write full time. Their investigation finds no trace of the hospital in which Augustus supposedly died. They discover Martin locked in the basement, catatonic and almost dead of starvation.

The Waterworks

When Martin is at last well enough to talk, he reveals what he discovered after being kidnapped and imprisoned by Simmons to stop him from asking questions about Augustus. Augustus Pemberton had faked his death. Along with other wealthy old men of the city, each of whom was terminally ill, Augustus is being kept alive by Dr. Sartorius, a brilliant and innovative Army surgeon during the Civil War, has invented treatments that were then unknown to medicine: blood transfusions, dialysis, bone marrow transplants and others. His dark secret is that young children must be sacrificed for their blood and somatic cells.

Sartorius considers himself innocent of their actual deaths, as each child "died from fright" and not from his nefarious medical attention. With the assistance of the corrupt Tweed Ring , which runs New York and with which several of the old men are connected , Sartorius has built a secret sanitarium in which he is free to experiment and administer his treatments without any supervision.


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When Donne discovers the location of the sanitarium in a municipal waterworks installation outside the city, he stages a police raid. The Tweed Ring is in the process of being destroyed by a corruption investigation and is no longer able to protect Sartorius and his establishment.

Sartorius is arrested; his patients are found dead except for Augustus, who is missing. Sartorius is brought to the insane asylum on Blackwell's Island , where he claims to be continuing his research. Augustus, who was removed from the sanitarium by Simmons before the raid, is found dead at his old home.

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Simmons is also found dead, killed in an accident while trying to flee with part of Augustus's fortune. The money is turned over to Sarah, as Augustus's widow. Sarah and Donne are soon married. McIlvaine resumes his career as an editor, but never publishes the story of his investigation. The first-person narrator presents a very negative image of the city he lives in — and he shows the readers an authentic view on the New York in