Thursday, August 27, 2015

Review: Saint Mazie

Summary: Meet Mazie Phillips: big-hearted and bawdy, she's the truth-telling proprietress of The Venice, the famed New York City movie theater. It's the Jazz Age, with romance and booze aplenty--even when Prohibition kicks in--and Mazie never turns down a night on the town. But her high spirits mask a childhood rooted in poverty, and her diary, always close at hand, holds her dearest secrets.

When the Great Depression hits, Mazie's life is on the brink of transformation. Addicts and bums roam the Bowery; homelessness is rampant. If Mazie won't help them, then who? When she opens the doors of The Venice to those in need, this ticket taking, fun-time girl becomes the beating heart of the Lower East Side, and in defining one neighborhood helps define the city.

Then, more than ninety years after Mazie began her diary, it's discovered by a documentarian in search of a good story. Who was Mazie Phillips, really? A chorus of voices from the past and present fill in some of the mysterious blanks of her adventurous life.

Inspired by the life of a woman who was profiled in Joseph Mitchell's classic Up in the Old Hotel, SAINT MAZIE is infused with Jami Attenberg's signature wit, bravery, and heart. Mazie's rise to "sainthood"--and her irrepressible spirit--is unforgettable. -- Grand Central Publishing

I apologize for not writing my review of SAINT MAZIE by Jami Attenberg earlier. I actually read this book months ago when it was first released, and somehow it got lost in my pile of finished books. I feel as if it's a disservice to you that I didn't write this review when the novel was fresh in my mind; however, I do recall liking this book a great deal. And once again, I was extremely impressed with Ms. Attenberg's writing.

SAINT MAZIE is based on the real life Mazie Phillips. She's quite the character (both in the book and real life) who sells tickets at The Venice, a famous New York City movie theater. Mazie loves to party and flirt with men, even after Prohibition is enacted; however, she is also hiding secrets from her difficult childhood. While Mazie hides her personal issues from the outside world, she uses her diary to capture her innermost thoughts.

When the Depression hits NYC, and particularly the Bowery, people lose their jobs, their homes, and even their dignity. Mazie decides that she wants to help these individuals. She allows these people to come into The Venice, spends time with them, calls ambulances, gives them money, and basically makes a huge difference in their lives... and the community as a whole.

I enjoyed Mazie and her story so much. She truly was a larger-than-life character and her story is an incredible one. Joseph Mitchell profiled her in his essay collection Up in the Old Hotel, and Ms. Attenberg has "updated" her story in this fictionalized account of her life. Mazie was an incredible woman and I am so glad that Ms. Attenberg wrote this novel and shared her story with so many current readers.

There are quite a few impressive things about SAINT MAZIE besides just the character of Mazie. Of course, she was a very special woman, albeit a little rough around the edges, who managed almost singlehandedly to help both individuals and the community during tough times. I loved the way the author brought Mazie to life and made her such a complex character. In addition, I thought she did an excellent job in portraying this sad period in our history.

Another wonderful thing about this novel is the way Ms. Attenberg chose to tell Mazie's story. The story mainly unfolds through Mazie's diary that was recently discovered by a historian, but it also is revealed through interview snippets and an unpublished autobiography. I loved how Ms. Attenberg shared Mazie's story through Mazie's words, but it was also interesting to read the interviews from individuals who knew (or whose relatives knew) Mazie. I thought the mix of sources came together well in this novel, but I admit I loved Mazie's diary entries the best.

I also really appreciated how Mazie's childhood experiences played such a big role in this novel. Mazie had a pretty horrible childhood that definitely formed her into the adult she became. She eventually ended up living with her sister and brother-in-law (the one responsible for giving her the job at The Venice); and while there were still some problems, it was definitely more stability than Mazie had ever experienced. As a result of her what happened when she was a kid, Mazie became rather tough. She loved to party and hang out with men; however, she also became someone who gave back... even when she didn't have that much to give.

There is no doubt Saint Mazie's story in an interesting one -- from her early childhood to her life helping those less fortunate. However, the author also chose to focus on some of the relationships in Mazie's life. I especially enjoyed the relationship Mazie had with a nun. While you wouldn't exactly expect someone like Mazie to be so close to a nun, their bond was so special and made an incredible impression on Mazie. Her on-going relationship with a sea captain was interesting too, although I did find it a bit sad.

SAINT MAZIE would make an excellent book club pick. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a formal discussion guide. I don't think one is necessary to discuss this terrific book and fascinating woman, though. Some of the themes you might want to explore include poverty, charity, religion, friendships, love, loss, sacrifice, the Great Depression, and more.

SAINT MAZIE is a wonderful look at an amazing woman. Highly recommended!

I received a copy of this novel at the 2015 BEA.


bermudaonion said...

I love books with diary entries too - this sounds terrific!

Beth F said...

I can't believe I haven't read this one yet. I agree with Kathy, sounds terrific