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.
Jean-Luc is a voracious reader who never stops dreaming of a way out of the slum. He gradually takes on responsibility for the family's survival with a mix of bravery and resentment while his mom turns from spells of illness and depression to eager planning for the day when "our ship will come in." It's a heartfelt and unforgettable look back at one child's life in the 1930s and '40s, a story that will be remembered long after it ends.
©2005 Trevanian; (P)2005 Books on Tape, Inc
"Trevanian's gift is his eye for detail; readers looking to get a feel for the period will find much to enjoy here." (Booklist)
I have never read anything else by this author so I was skeptical about this book but it was delightful. It is rich in "signs of the time" and the reality of a child's imagination that is trying to cope with pressures and guilt, most of it self-imposed out of a sense of responsibility. Trevanian has captured the essence of growing up in poverty in a small city. I found so many things that related to my own childhood that at times I could still feel the burden and I think the only escape was to develop a rich imagination. I hated the story to end. A lot of books written about this time frame are written from a rural setting and we see how hard it is to run the farm or make a living from the land - this gives an urban view from the eyes of an intelligent ambitious young boy.
I have not read any of Trevanian's other novels. Apparently, this one is not his usual stuff. Despite the disclaimer, it seems quite autobiographical. Luke's mother is abandoned by her husband, shortly after they are married. He returns once to father Luke's sister, and then sends a note to have them meet him in Albany. They arrive at Pearl Street, (an Irish Catholic slum) and he has disappeared again. The story details the lives on Pearl Street, during the depression and through WWII. Luke manages to care for his mother and sister, despite crushing poverty, in part by making up story games and living in his head. His descriptions of the "characters" who also live on Pearl Street are well done and for the most part, gentle and insightful.
At times, the story got a bit long winded, but I kept going back to catch the parts I missed. The narrator was quite good; I enjoyed the tenor of his voice.
I found it a good read, and could not put it down.
I'd only read "Incident at 20 Mile" by Trevanian before, and it was a masterpiece. I had just begun listening to this book when I looked up the author and learned that he had died only a few days before I started it. The story is very autobiographical, although the names are changed and Trevanian tried for decades to keep his identity a secret. The unabridged version of this book is very beautifully and richly read and helps bring the author's evocative vision of the 1930s to life. For anyone who remembers or respects the era of the depression, of old time radio programs and matinee films, of wartime rationing and the prejudices of small city life in the urban slums, this story will stir memories and create pictures redolent of "Angela's Ashes" and other fine childhood memoirs.
this story is a true example of an examined life. it is for anyone who, in childhood or as an adult, still dwells in the world of their own imagination.
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