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.
Attenberg's (The Middlesteins) new novel is based on the WWI- and Depression-era life of Mazie Phillips, Queen of the Bowery (and subject of a famous Joseph Mitchell New Yorker profile). The story unfolds mostly through diary entries, but also snippets from an unpublished autobiography (fictional, like the diary entries) and recollections of those who met or knew of the woman who, according to her New York Times obit, "passed out advice, money, and sympathy" to men who lost their livelihoods and dignity during the 1930s. Her coarseness of voice is on display as she tells her life story, eventually being taken in by Rosie and Louis Gordon, her older sister and brother-in-law. Louis owns legitimate businesses such as the theater Mazie runs but in all likelihood is a loan shark. Meanwhile, Rosie's demons force the family to move throughout New York City. As for Mazie, the good-time girl is also a woman who cares deeply about the less fortunate, and this plays out most endearingly in her friendship with a pious nun. In the book's final quarter, Mazie wanders the streets handing out change and calling ambulances for people, a pattern that seems emblematic of a difficult time, painting a vivid picture of life during the Depression.
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Excellent; a little bit of all of us, our dreams, experiences, & how we deal with them. Touched my soul.