Legendary writer Trevanian brings readers his most personal novel yet: a funny, deeply felt, often touching autobiographical novel destined to become a classic American coming-of-age story.The place is Albany, New York. The year is 1936. Six-year-old Jean-Luc LaPointe, his little sister, and their spirited but vulnerable young mother have been abandoned-again-by his father, a charmer and a con artist. With no money and no family willing to take them in, the LaPointes manage to create a fragile nest at 238 North Pearl Street. For the next eight years, through the Great Depression and Second World War, they live in the heart of the Irish slum, with its ward heelers, unemployment, and grinding poverty. As Jean-Luc discovers, it's a neighborhood of "crazyladies": Miss Cox, the feared and ridiculed teacher who ignites his imagination; Mrs. Kane, who runs a beauty parlor/fortune-telling salon in the back of her husband's grocery store; Mrs. Meehan, the desperate, harried matriarch of a thuggish family across the street; lonely Mrs. McGivney, who spends every day tending to her catatonic husband, a veteran of the Great War; and Jean-Luc's own unconventional, vivacious mother.
In this nostalgic, richly textured autobiographical novel about growing up on a poor Irish block in Albany, N.Y., prolific author Trevanian (Shibumi; Hot Night in the City; etc.) recalls his childhood during the Great Depression through World War II. In 1936, six-year-old narrator Jean-Luc La Pointe, his mother and younger sister leave Lake George Village for a gritty tenement in Albany to reunite with their deadbeat father and husband. He never shows up, and the penniless family makes do on their own: Luke's mother finds work as a waitress, and he fetches day-old bread on credit from the Socialist Jewish grocer across the street while steering clear of the Meehans from down the block, "a wild, drunken, dim-witted tribe... related in complex and unnatural ways." Affectionate portraits of the titular eccentric women punctuate Trevanian's sprawling tale: Luke observes the beleaguered and self-destructive Mrs. Meehan and meets the reclusive Mrs. McGivney, who perpetually relives a happier past while caring for a catatonic husband. Luke's "defiantly independent" mother, another "crazylady," marries the decent upstairs neighbor, but continues to idealize her con-man first husband. Though Trevanian's reminiscences make for a more atmospheric than carefully wrought novel, he sweetly evokes an innocent if hardscrabble lost age. (June) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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June 06, 2005
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Excerpt from The Crazyladies of Pearl Street by Trevanian
MY SISTER, my mother and I sat in a row on the front stoop of 238 North Pearl Street, feeling overwhelmed and diminished by the unfamiliar bustle of the big city. Beside the stoop was a stack of twine-bound cardboard boxes bulging with bedding, clothing and kitchen things. Around them were clustered our few scraps of furniture looking scuffed and shabby in the unforgiving glare of daylight. It was Saint Patrick's Day, and the mid-March sun felt good, but chill winter air still lurked in the shadows. The year was 1936; I was six years old, my sister was three, my mother was twenty-seven, and we were beginning a new life.
We had been sitting on that stoop long enough for the gritty brownstone to mottle the backs of my legs between my short pants and my knee-high stockings. My sister wore a starched, frilly dress that Mother had bought out of money meant to tide us over until we got on our feet because she wanted Anne-Marie to look pretty the first time her father saw her, but the dress had got crushed during the long drive with the three of us crammed into half of the front seat of my uncle's rattletrap of a truck. And now we sat hip to hip on that step, Mother in the middle, my sister and I drawing comfort from contact with her, while she drew maternal strength and determination from contact with us. Anne-Marie was hungry and sleepy and close to tears. Taking her onto her lap, Mother looked anxiously up and down the street for my father whom she hadn't seen for four years, not since the morning he went out to look for work and didn't come back, leaving her with a toddler, a baby, and two dollars and some change in her purse.