Cover image for The engineer's wife : a novel
The engineer's wife : a novel
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344 pages ; 24 cm.
When Emily Warren Roebling marries Captain Washington 'Wash' Roebling-the handsome, charming soldier of her dreams, and her brother's dear friend and aide during the Civil War-a lifetime of family fun and happiness seems within her grasp. But then Wash accepts the position as Chief Engineer on his father's magnum opus, the Brooklyn Bridge, and it changes both of their lives forever. In Brooklyn, the happy home they'd dreamed of warps around the bridge. Incapacitated from working in the high-pressure tanks at the bridge's foundations, Wash convinces Emily to be his messenger to the site. Little by little, Emily finds herself taking over the project-with no formal training or education in math and science. Emily throws herself into building the bridge but faces suspicion and disparagement at every turn as she supervises dangerous construction sites and argues for the safety of the bridge amongst Manhattan's male elite. The Engineer's Wife delivers an emotional portrait of a woman transformed by a project of unfathomable scale, and of a husband and wife determined to build something that lasts--even at the risk of losing each other. --


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She built a monument for all time. Then she was lost in its shadow. Discover the fascinating woman who helped design and construct an American icon, perfect for readers of The Other Einstein.

Emily Warren Roebling refuses to live conventionally--she knows who she is and what she wants, and she's determined to make change. But then her husband Wash asks the unthinkable: give up her dreams to make his possible.

Emily's fight for women's suffrage is put on hold, and her life transformed when Wash, the Chief Engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge, is injured on the job. Untrained for the task, but under his guidance, she assumes his role, despite stern resistance and overwhelming obstacles. Lines blur as Wash's vision becomes her own, and when he is unable to return to the job, Emily is consumed by it. But as the project takes shape under Emily's direction, she wonders whose legacy she is building--hers, or her husband's. As the monument rises, Emily's marriage, principles, and identity threaten to collapse. When the bridge finally stands finished, will she recognize the woman who built it?

Based on the true story of the Brooklyn Bridge, The Engineer's Wifedelivers an emotional portrait of a woman transformed by a project of unfathomable scale, which takes her into the bowels of the East River, suffragette riots,the halls of Manhattan's elite, and the heady, freewheeling temptations of P.T. Barnum. It's the story of a husband and wife determined to build something that lasts--even at the risk of losing each other.

Author Notes

TRACEY ENERSON WOOD is a published playwright whose family is steeped in military tradition. This is her first novel.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Spanning 1864--1884, Wood's impeccably researched debut narrates the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge from the viewpoint of a woman central to its creation. Twenty-year-old Emily Warren meets civil engineer Washington "Wash" Roebling in 1864, when he is 27. They marry in 1865 and have their only child in Germany while Wash researches pneumatic caissons, the watertight structures used in bridge foundations. Emily reluctantly sidelines her plans of working for women's suffrage in favor of studying her husband's engineering books as they help raise funds for the bridge's $7 million cost and set up house in Brooklyn. Decompression sickness from trips in and out of the caisson keeps Wash housebound for years, so Emily goes from being his "eyes and ears" at the site to handling public relations and technical problem solving, and taking a leadership role during the project's many crises. Wash provides little emotional support or companionship, and Emily develops an attraction to charismatic showman P.T. Barnum while still hoping for a sign of affection from her husband. Readers will appreciate the nuanced depiction of Emily's struggles to overcome male resistance and balance her own needs with her partner's. Wood's satisfying historical feels true to its era yet powerfully relevant to women's lives today. (Apr.)

Kirkus Review

When the chief engineer falls ill, his wife steps up to direct the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.Wood's debut novel fictionalizes the story of Emily and Washington Roebling, the real couple who took on the immense Brooklyn Bridge construction project. Emily's involvement was not intentional. For a respectable lady in 1870, it was frowned upon to leave the house without a chaperone, much less manage an all-male crew of foulmouthed laborers. However, Emily is determined to resist domestic constraints, especially since, due to complications attending the birth of son Johnny, the Roebling family will remain small. She intends to join the suffragist movement, but a series of tragedies besetting the bridge project interferes. Her father-in-law dies of tetanus following a work-site crash, necessitating that Wash take over as chief engineer. One of the main virtues here is Wood's grasp of the logistics of construction without today's heavy equipment. Underwater caissons had to be seated on the bedrock at both ends of the bridge to anchor the towers. The caisson-sinking process, involving significant pressure issues and the need to provide oxygen to men working underwater, causes many cases of "caisson disease," i.e., the bends. Wash himself is afflicted, and during his extended recovery, Emily must act as his intermediary with a fractious group of workers, investors, and corrupt politicians. Her most trusted ally, showman P.T. Barnum, helps her develop confidence and public speaking skills but also seems intent on drawing her into a dangerous flirtation. Clad in a bloomer work costume designed and executed by Wash, whose sewing prowess far exceeds her own, Emily gradually overcomes gender prejudice and wins over her bitterest opponents, although her people-pleasing is itself gender-stereotypical. The writing meticulously evokes the sights, sounds, and smells of 1870s New Yorkif, at times, Wood seems to embrace the Barbara Taylor Bradford school of dcor-forward description. Dialogue is inconsistent, ranging from glib to stilted.Wood spares no detail in showing us what led up to that first stroll across the great bridgeby a woman. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

Wood (Homefront Cooking, 2018) bases her first novel on the real life of Emily Warren Roebling, the woman responsible for completing the Brooklyn Bridge. Readers meet young Emily in 1864, an independent spirit not defined by the traditional and limited roles for women. While finishing her education and beginning her work in the suffrage movement, Emily meets Captain Washington Roebling, an aide to her brother during the Civil War. They soon fall in love and Emily decides to put aside her own passions to support Wash and his father's dream to engineer bridges that will change the country. Emily follows them from city to city, educating herself and raising her son alongside the dangerous construction sites and unfamiliar streets. After her father-in-law dies from an accident and Wash becomes ill, Emily must carry on in Wash's place, persevering in the face of adversity to finish the Brooklyn Bridge. This important work of historical fiction brings to life the strength and resolve of a nineteenth-century woman overshadowed by men and overlooked by history books.