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Trenton Makes

3.01  ·  Rating details ·  250 ratings  ·  79 reviews
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
Kindle Edition, 194 pages
Published March 20th 2018 by Anchor
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Average rating 3.01  · 
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Janelle Janson
Thank you so much to Doubleday Books for providing my copy of TRENTON MAKES by Tadzio Koelb - all opinions are my own.

During post-World War II, a woman factory worker accidentally kills her abusive husband during a domestic fight and then assumes his identity: Abe Kunstler. Abe moves out of town, finds a new job at a factory, and settles down with a woman named Inez. After so much time, Abe believes he needs a family to blend in. Jump to the second part of the book in 1971 where Abe has a son, A
Aug 11, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This sounded very interesting. A woman living her life as a man in a post war uber masculine American culture of the 1940s and then a 25 year jump in time to revisit the same person in different circumstances and era. The book itself, though, didn't quite work for me. The narrative, while visceral and vivid, managed to maintain a sort of aloofness. Mainly, though, I just didn't care for any of the characters, including the protagonist, and with this sort of book you kind of really have to, becau ...more
Trigger warnings: (view spoiler)

This book is challenging to give a star rating to as I really liked the first half and then ended up not particularly enjoying the second half, which at it's best was only okay. Based on that, I'm giving this book 2.5 stars, which is in the middle of okay and like, which seems about as close to accurate as a star rating
***Spoilers below***

A woman in post-WWII Trenton, NJ, accidentally kills her abusive husband, disposes of his body, and takes his identity. She can do this because he was apparently pretty small and she had worked in a factory during the war making wire rope and was strapping like Rosie the Riveter. She took on his identity as Abe Kunstler, moved to another part of town, went through a string of various odd jobs, and eventually is able to get work at another factory, making wire rope as he had d
Apr 16, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I'm sorry but that was terrible. ...more
Mar 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
At the center of Trenton Makes is a woman made strong by factory work during World War II who kills her abusive army veteran husband and assumes his identity. As Abe Kunstler, he secures a job in a wire rope factory, makes a home with a woman named Inez, and completes his transformation by "creating" a son.

Tadzio Koelb's novel brilliantly evades traditional ways of drawing readers into a story and forces us to engage with the ideas that propel it: ideas about power, desperation, identity, creat
Sep 14, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
To call the writing in this book beautiful would somehow not fit - but it is.
Also, as for a review or recommendation - to tell you anything is to ruin the thing.
Come for the post WWII gender fuckery, stay for the sweet sweaty tension.

I was biased against this novel from the outset, since I've always hated the "Trenton Makes" sign. For those unfamiliar, this is a giant sign on the Lower Trenton Bridge over the Delaware River connecting Trenton, NJ and Morrisville, PA. The sign reads
. It is visible from the Amtrak line which crosses the river just south. "The slogan was originally "The World Takes, Trenton Makes" and came from a contest sponsored by the Trenton Chamber of Commerce in 1910. S. Roy
Marshal (thebookishhowler)

Actual rating: 3.75 ✨
I received this eARC from Doubleday books via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Tadzio Koelb’s writing style is unique. I actually had to re-read the first few pages and it took me about 20% of the way through to fully adjust to his style. I’m going to tell you all now that this book won’t be for everyone. Initially, I was struggling to get into this story. I didn’t get fully immersed until the second half of this book.

This is not a light read! It’s a quick read but this book contains m
May 07, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is definitely literary fiction. It is not something for readers who are looking for entertainment or escape. The story presents a brutal look at all sorts of difficult themes. Every character is messed up in various degrees. This book would be excellent to dissect in a graduate school lit class, or a serious book club. It reminds me of Hemingway in topics and loathsome characters. However, the writing is much more flowy and almost pretty in spots. People have complained that the story is va ...more
Teri Stich
I so wanted to like this. The premise of the story held such promise. The story of a woman who took on the persona of a man in order to escape the hard troubled life she knew. Having read other books of this theme, I was quick to begin it. Unfortunately, I just couldn't appreciate the writing style, for me it did not match the story. The author just could not bring the characters to life for me. I gave it a good try. I do hope someone else reads it, I would love to hear their opinion. Perhaps th ...more
Oct 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
By Tadzio Koelb
Knopf, 224 pages

If John Steinbeck had been born later, he might have tackled something akin to Trenton Makes. There are decided Steinbeck elements to Tadzio Koelb's debut novel, including the use of intercalary chapters, the elegiac sweep of his prose, and nods to the forgotten man. Except for Koelb, the forgotten "man" is a woman who assumes a male identity.

Trenton Makes unfolds in two acts, the first set between 1946 and 1952, the second occurring in 1971
Dec 31, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
At times absorbing, while at other times the writing erected a barrier against my understanding. The author seems sure of his way yet I became lost in all that style. A dramatic and flat out wierd story. The characters have been thrown together in gross misunderstandings and violence. How far will a person go to protect their assumed identity? It only becomes stranger when the father hunts his son. Currents the wife is not even somewhat aware of begin to flow with ferocity culminating in a pathe ...more
Nov 08, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It read like a winning assignment in a creative writing course -- polished, smart, and original. It is lacking though. We expect the city of Trenton, as place, to provide so much more mood or context, or even color, to what feels often enough like a bare-bones story. Instead the city is a reference that stays somewhat distant. The story never seems to go as deep as it promises, and I ended up thinking I wish Koelb had taken more time with this promising outline of a story.
Donna Bijas
Apr 15, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-book
2 stars. Not a fan but will say the first half of the book had a decent storyline, Woman accidentally kills abusive husband and assumes his life, life as a man after the war. That said, the second half of the story was absurd to me. Zigzagging all over the place with his job, his wife and his son (he’s still pretending he’s a man now mind you). Wanted to abandon it but at only 200 pages, I finished it. Would not recommend.
Jul 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Content warnings: (view spoiler)

I want to thank Double Day books for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The first thing I should note is that this book is not for everyone and it certainly wasn't for me. I was very interested in the idea of this novel. Trenton Makes is about a woman who assumes the identity of a man to carve o
Mar 09, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: netgalley-arcs
I would like to thank NetGalley, the publisher and the author for my advanced copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

I am giving this 2.5 stars because aside from the writing style, which I found very pleasant and interesting, I didn't get the book. I didn't get the story. What was the point of it? What did the author try to say?

We meet Art Kunstler. His life is tough. It's post-WW2 and jobs are rough, money is tight, and morale is low. Art lives with a secret, a big, big secret! T
Apr 04, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
After World War II, a woman kills her husband and then assumes his identity. From there, she takes his job at a factory and eventually meets a drunk dancer who she decides to partner up with. The book then flashes forward to the 70's where she is still keeping her gender a secret. This book was extremely hard to follow and had little to no character development. I started reading it without reading the description and I'm not sure whether it was because I had trouble paying attention to the plot ...more
Susan Kinnevy
Jun 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this book because I was born in Trenton and wanted to see what sort of literature might come of it. I was surprised by the story itself, it was unexpected and unique. The setting -- Trenton in 1946, the year I was born, and 1971 during the Vietnam War -- was so true to parts of my own experience, I kind of shivered as I read it. The protagonist was a pastiche of so many factory men, striving to create or preserve their fragile identity, damaged by war and poverty and a perverted ideal of ...more
Aug 22, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
What the world takes is often what is held dear to one's self. The world is just too big and messed up not too take the good. So you make good and adapt. This making and taking is at the core of Trenton Makes by Tadzio Koelb. It's very hard to discuss and review this book without giving away major spoilers. So I will say this, pay attention to the pronouns. Koelb is not playing at duping, but at letting the main character, Abe Kunstler, live as himself, as he sees himself, and wants himself to b ...more
L.C. Rooney
Sep 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I will admit that I found this little gem of a novel (206 pages) quite by accident: I was searching the web for images of my hometown of Trenton, New Jersey to get ideas for the cover of my upcoming debut novel. When someone from Trenton, New Jersey sees the words "Trenton Makes," we know the rest of the phrase: "The World Takes." These words form the neon-lit sign spanning the side of the Lower Trenton Bridge connecting the capital city to Morrisville, Pennsylvania. It refers to the late 19th a ...more
Cassandra MADEUP BookBlog
There really isn’t an awful lot that I can say without telling you even more of the plot line that the blurb and goodreads description already do, but..

First off, this is an interesting storyline, with many many issues to be discussed, so perhaps a great book for a book club. For fun? Perhaps not.

It is quite enjoyable as far as the story goes, but I had a hard time reading it. Initially I found the style engaging, but it became hard work quickly, and i found myself not understanding what was goi
Feb 22, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am of two minds about my rating. On the one hand, this is written by a massively skillful writer. Koelb is awesome at setting a mood and a situation that fits the mood.

Problem is, the mood is quite a downer; gritty, grimy, desperate. Sample from page 68, which I turned to at random, "Her mother's tearful despair was a thing she never felt. She sometimes believed it was because even then she had been ugly and known it, and the ugliness protected her from pain, or rather was a pain so great in i
Although it’s been about 10 years since author Tadzio Koelb received his degree from the University of East Anglia, I wasn’t surprised to learn he had an MFA in Creative Writing and was even less surprised he matriculated from such a vaunted institution. Though I hadn’t heard of UAE before Googling Koelb, every British publication I read mentioned the university without any explanation, in the same way people talk about Iowa. And when the graduates include Ian McEwan, Kashuo Ishiguro, and Naomi ...more
Jenny Shank
Apr 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dallas Morning News, March 30, 2018

In hardscrabble Trenton, N.J., a man returns from World War II to find his wife strengthened from factory work. When he slaps her, she strikes back "with all the great power of the wire rope and the metal sheeting that made the planes" and he falls down dead. She conceals the murder by transforming herself, through bandages, clothes, and careful study, into Abe Kunstler, a hard-drinking factory man.

Abe's metamorphosis into a man is so successful, he woos a wom
Henrietta (H
Jul 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
True confession: I was attracted to this book because I live a couple of miles from the Trenton Makes bridge. On the side of the bridge in big lighted letters is

Trenton Makes
The World Takes

It’s probably meant to express pride in producing products that the world values, but the awkward language seems to say “We bust our gut to make this shit and the world rips us off.” It’s an apt logo for hardscrabble blue-collar Trenton and an apt title for this book.

Koelb takes us on a gender-bending odyssey.
Theresa Leone Davidson
I did not like this novel. It is about a woman, abused by her husband, who kills him and then assumes his identity, or at least a male identity, including marrying a woman with whom she will never have sex. It sounds like a good premise, right? Might have been but here it was not. The biggest reason I did not like the novel was because there is a graphic rape scene - if you are, unbeknownst to your wife, really a woman when she thinks you're a man, and yet you really want to have a kid, then you ...more
Ed Bernard
2.5 stars

So, when discussing books with someone, perhaps my least favorite phrase is “I just couldn’t get into it.” I hate that! C’mon, dude(ette) … find a way to EXPLAIN why you didn’t choose to finish the thing – was it too long? Too weird? Too violent, sexist, dialogue-poor, post-modern, non-linear? What was the problem? In the case of Trenton Makes, well, I just couldn’t get into it. It’s not too long … under 200 pages, in fact. It’s damn weird, but not too weird for me. All the dialogue was
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Tadzio Koelb is a graduate of the prestigious writing program at the University of East Anglia. In addition to writing fiction he is a reviewer and essayist for a variety of publications that include The New York Times and The Times Literary Supplement. He has lived in Belgium, Spain, France, England, Uzbekistan, Rwanda, Madagascar, and Tunisia. He now lives in Belgium. ...more

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