cover image Saint Mazie

Saint Mazie

Jami Attenberg. Grand Central, $25 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4555-9989-9

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 The story unfolds mostly through diary entries, but also snippets from an unpublished autobiography (fictional, like the diary entries) and recollections of those who met or knew of the woman who, according to her New York Times obit, “passed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. (June)