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Publisher's Summary

"A novel of bewitching ingenuity, one whose darkling, melodic mind conceives a world of ruin and awe..." (New York Times Book Review)

A vivid, brutal, razor-sharp debut about a woman who carves out her share of the American dream by living as a man

1946: At the apogee of the American Century, the confidence inspired by victory in World War II has spawned a culture of suffocating conformity in thrall to the cult of masculine privilege.

In the hardscrabble industrial city of Trenton, New Jersey, a woman made strong by wartime factory work kills her army veteran husband in a domestic brawl, disposes of his body, and assumes his identity. As Abe Kunstler, he secures a job in a wire rope factory, buys a car, and successfully woos Inez, an alcoholic dime dancer. He makes a home with her, but for Abe, this is not enough: to complete his transformation, he needs a son.

1971: A very different war is underway. The certainties of midcentury triumphalism are a distant, bitter memory, and Trenton's heyday as a factory town is long past. As the sign on the famous bridge says, "Trenton Makes, the World Takes".

The family life Abe has so carefully constructed is crumbling under the intolerable pressures of his long ruse. Desperate to hold on to what he has left, Abe searches for solutions in the dying city.

Written in brilliantly stylized prose, this gripping narrative is a provocative and incisive exploration of the nature of identity and a disturbing portrait of desperation. Tadzio Koelb has crafted a slim gut shot of a novel that heralds the arrival of a writer of startling talent and imagination.

©2018 Tadzio Koelb (P)2018 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"The honed-steel sentences on display here - vivid and sharp and scarily persuasive - are all the more harrowing for the vulnerability they manage to convey. Abe Kunstler is a singular protagonist, and Trenton Makes is a passionate and original first novel." (Garth Risk Hallberg, author of City on Fire)

"A transgressive, barbed-wire sharp debut." (O, the Oprah Magazine)

"Here is a novel of bewitching ingenuity, one whose darkling, melodic mind conceives a world of ruin and awe... Tadzio Koelb himself has made a novel worthy not only of New Jersey but of that exclusive fluorescence called art." (New York Times Book Review)

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

A beautifully written, perfectly awful story

Although the narration by Mozahan Marno is well-enough performed, I do not recommend the audible version of this book. The story was confusing to me, as new characters appeared without introduction -- years having passed with explanation coming only after considerable listening time had passed. I found myself having to go back and re listen to important details before they made sense. This is one time I would have preferred to be able to turn back actual pages for review rather than guessing at when the point that I had missed was told.

I find myself wanting to go back to a hard copy of the book so I can better relish the distinctive author's voice. Despite the harrowing tale, I would perhaps give it more stars for sheer brilliance in the telling.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Bizarre trip in a tortured mind

I have not read anything like this before. The emergence of Abe Kuntzler is a fascinating response to a terrible event. Not a fun read but I dare you not to finish it.

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    5 out of 5 stars

Turns of phrase that brings pure reading joy.

Through a deceptively detached tone the novel manages to bring the reader right into the deepest wells of human experience.