The Edge of Ruin

Irene Fleming

Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach

The Edge of Ruin by Irene Fleming The Edge of Ruin is about a woman whose husband, the owner of a string of nickelodeons, comes home one day in 1909 and announces he is selling the businesses and everything else they own to become a movie producer in New York. Alas, poor Emily. Even "her fur coat, which he gave her before they were married" must go, while "he himself refused to part with so much as a silk hat." If he weren't so handsome... Their plight is complicated when a murder occurs during the filming of their first movie.

Movies, in 1909, could be made surprisingly quickly, but perhaps not as quickly as Adam imagines. His contract requires him "to deliver four one-reel movies by the twenty-third of the month: two Westerns, a comedy, and a drama. If they failed, Mr. Kazanow took the whole movie company, which meant everything they owned..." When Emily asks Adam if he consulted a lawyer before signing, he answers cheerfully, "Howie Kazanow is a lawyer." Worse yet, it turns out Thomas A. Edison has a patent on just about everything to do with making movies and is determined to brook no competition. His henchmen "have been known to break cameras, ruin film, and worse." So Adam decides to film across the river in New Jersey, instead.

Emily is a plucky lass (despite her paralyzing fear of heights), and since her husband's madcap venture can no longer be averted, she resolves to do what she can to make it a success. "Emily imagined the two of them in rags, fleeing their creditors, riding the rods of a boxcar into the West. Perhaps it would be romantic." Well, perhaps not - but readers who appreciate a wit as dry and skewering as the murder weapon will find The Edge of Ruin very, very funny. It's also a superbly researched portrayal of an era of ruthless business tactics, labor unrest and free-wheeling entrepreneurship. With a happy ending. Sort of. (2010, 230 pages, including an Author's Note about the history behind the novel)

More about The Edge of Ruin from Powell's Books or

Interview with author Irene Fleming

Other novels in which Thomas A. Edison plays a key role:

Brilliance by Anthony McCarten (2013), about Edison and his relationship with financier J.P. Morgan. More info

Five Fists of Science by Matt Fraction and Steven Sanders (2006), a graphic novel in which Edison features as one of the evil villains. More info

The Invention of Everything Else by Samantha Hunt (2008), a literary novel about the Hungarian genius Nicola Tesla, employed by Edison shortly after he immigrated to America. More info

And Having Writ by Donald R. Bensen (1978), alternate history in which a space ship crash lands, splitting life on Earth into two dimensions, in one of which Edison becomes U.S. President. More info

Nonfiction about Thomas A. Edison and the beginnings of the motion picture industry:

The Wizard of Menlo Park by Randall Stross (2007), about Edison.
More info

Fort Lee: The Film Town, 1904-2004 by Richard Koszarski (2005), about the New Jersey town that serves as the setting for The Edge of Ruin. More info

Online:, a website devoted to the earliest development of films and the film industry, through the year 1905.

Back to 20th Century: Prewar America

Back to Directory of Book Reviews