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A Tattered Coat Upon a Stick Paperback – December 1, 1999


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Xlibris Corp; 1 edition (December 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0738807850
  • ISBN-13: 978-0738807850
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.6 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #9,031,689 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

A retired federal executive, William Brennan lives in a coastal village in Massachusetts. His motive for writing this novel was to create still another groundswell to annul the convictions of Sacco and Vanzetti in 2002, the seventy-fifth anniversary of their executions.

More About the Author

William Brennan was born and raised in an Irish neighborhood in the shoe factory city of Brockton, MA as the Industrial Revolution was abating in New England. As a result, his first three novels are an examination of the Irish American experience during the first half of the twentieth century. These these novels are populated by characters that are composites of those roaming the streets outside his windows in the Tip section of Brockton.

While these novels are set in such locales as Boston, Washington, the fictional town of Millbank, MA, and even France, only after writing for years did what Brennan was about as an author begin to become clear to him: relating the experiences of life in Irish American ghettoes as the Industrial Revolution was coming to its close, and not until he was almost finished with the third book, Murphy's War, did it become obvious to him that he had written a trilogy based on his old neighborhood in Brockton which was called The Tip. Only then did he label these three novels, A Tattered Coat Upon A Stick, Au Revoir L'Acadie and Murphy's War, his Tipperary Trilogy.

In the midst of writing his fourth novel, Charity For All, which does not depend on characters from the old neighborhood, he came to see the nature of his life's interest, the examination of the role of the individual in the society that he or she exists, was a topic worth devoting his remaining energy and drive. While Charity continues the saga of the integration of immigrants in America, the assimilation is so successful that the Irish characters are mostly just supporting actors in the story. This novel was inspired by actual events in Massachusetts and was completed long before the scandal at Penn State University; it is shocking in its examination of how community leaders in both cases acted when confronted by crimes of this nature.

Brennan's first novel, A Tattered Coat Upon A Stick, is recommended for those interested in the Sacco and Vanzetti case and working class ethnic life in the first half of the twentieth century. Most books on the subject are about the infamous trial of Sacco and Vanzetti and their guilt or innocence. Brennan' work places the case in its broader social and historical setting and received excellent reviews for its treatment of the economy and ethnic life in the first half of the twentieth century.

In talking about his work, Brennan said, "My writing career began with A Tattered Coat Upon A Stick in which I attempted to look at the Sacco and Vanzetti case from the point of view of working class Irish and Italians.

"Were it not for the case, I would never have become a novelist. When I was a youth of perhaps twelve, I witnessed a near violent confrontation between two middle aged friends in my neighborhood. The men were ready to fight over the guilt or innocence of two men I'd never heard of, Sacco and Vanzetti. In the end, one man foreclosed all further argument by saying he'd been in Braintree on the day of the robbery and killings and saw them. "They did it!"

Brennan continued, "The confrontation amazed me and, despite the passage of nearly half a century, it never left my mind, and I was compelled to do research on the case and to write the novel. The book condemns the legal system but does not attempt to address the roles of the accused in the crime. It was my conclusion that the wrath of the paranoid establishment of Massachusetts had been directed at the workers of the Commonwealth to assure that the disease of anarchy was nipped in the bud and did not infect the first and second generation immigrants who were essential to the economy.

Writing the book was a joy, as I was able to set the case among all of the great events of that tumultuous era. The novel and all the rest of my work stemmed from a street corner argument."

Brennan recently completed his fifth novel, Gray Hearts and Greenbacks. It is his first book written about events outside of Massachusetts and examines a case of massive fraud against the U.S. government.

In Gray Hearts, Army Corps of Engineers employee Tommy Phelan is entrapped into becoming a member of a gang committing fraud against the government. Phelan's journey of self discovery leads him to understand that he is not much better than those running the criminal venture.

As the story unfolds, Phelan comes under the influence of a mentor, a decadent dilettante member of the gang,and becomes convinced that he can navigate the dangerous rapids before him, including avoiding prison and thriving as a criminally enriched but now honorable member of society. The novel provides insight into the terrible economic recession from which we are only now recovering. Above all it provides an opening into the hearts and minds of individuals attempting to find the way through today's moral thickets without the benefit of the certainty of earlier periods of human history.

All five of Brennan's novels are available in the Kindle store for under two dollars each. Give them a look; most people find them very worthy reading.

Bill is hard at work on a historical novel inspired by Rev. Theodore Parker and other members of the Transcendentalist movement that illuminates the continuing influence of the American Renaissance.

While unwilling to do bookstore signings, if the schedule permits, Brennan is happy to participate free of charge in book club discussions via speaker phone from his home.

Customer Reviews

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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By R. Sommo on August 5, 2001
Format: Paperback
I bought "A Tattered Coat Upon a Stick" from the author, who sat alone at a card table in a minor branch of a chain bookstore. I wasn't expecting much, but the subject intrigued me and, for heaven's sake, the man was sitting right there. I didn't start reading it for a couple of weeks, but carried it as my "backup book", since it was fairly light. I wish I'd read it before I met the author. I wish I'd had the opportunity to tell him what a wonderful book he's written. The story drew this reader in as only the best-written stories do. The format works beautifully, giving the narrator the opportunity to address not only the story, but the reader as well, in the person of a student recording an oral history. It's a complete mystery to me why this book was self-published. It is compelling, well written, and entertaining -- characteristics that are missing from many of the books that come to us through commercial publishers. I wish the author every success in his marketing efforts, and look forward to seeing his next book. I'm recommending "A Tattered Coat Upon a Stick" to everyone I know, especially to those with an interest in modern history, in justice, and in good stories.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on May 15, 2002
Format: Paperback
William Brennan's A Tattered Coat Upon A Stick is a provocative and engaging novel dealing with the fallout from the historical Sacco and Vanzetti case, in which two men were convicted of murder and executed nearly 75 years prior to the present day. In A Tattered Coat Upon A Stick, a prison guard believes in the convicts' innocence and stands by them at the hour of their deaths, yet remains personally distraught over his failure to save them. Written in hope of garnering a movement to annul the Sacco and Vanzetti convictions, A Tattered Coat Upon A Stick is singularly powerful and moving reading.
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Format: Paperback
The author, William Brennan, describes this first novel as a tale of the impact of the Sacco and Vanzetti case on an Irish immigrant enclave in Boston. He certainly does succeed in this. The book is much more than that though. The first-person narrator, Emmet Magawley, currently a patient in a Veterans Hospital is a small man with a crooked back, his voice thick with a lifetime of cigarette smoke, looking somewhat like a tattered coat upon a stick. He has a gift with words, words that gently take me by the hand and introduce me to his world, that of the Irish American neighborhoods in the early part of the 20th century.
Emmet's unusual for his time because he knows how to type. He's uses this skill as a clerk in General Pershing's office in France during The Great War as well as in his later job as a prison guard in the Massachusetts jail where Sacco and Vanzetti are held. Emmet is related to the Irish politicians who run his neighborhood and lives with his wife and children in a three-family house with her relatives where family meals come alive with the aroma of corned beef and cabbage as well as the loud bullying voice of his brother-in-law as the topics of the day are hotly debated. Prohibition brings changes to the neighborhood as Emmet earns extra income running liquor, and I loved his descriptions of being on a small boat as it bucked ocean waves to pick up cargo beyond the three-mile-limit at sea.
It is only when Emmet's character is fully developed and the reader completely identifies with him, that we are introduced to Sacco and Vanzetti inside the jail.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By fred taylor on June 6, 2001
Format: Hardcover
A marvelous depiction of Boston Irish blue collar life from the beginning of the century to the present. It speaks of the culture of the Great War, Prohibition, the Depression, and, most prominently, the famous Sacco and Venzetti trial and executions. It's a great and moving read with the wit and eleoquence of the Irish. It accurately informs of the lives and ways of the Boston Irish who were born around 1900.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Thom Cuddy on January 22, 2002
Format: Paperback
I came across this book as I was searching for something to read about Sacco and Vanzetti. Being from Brockton, Mass., the opening setting for the book, I was immediately intrigued. (The story opens in the Brockton V.A., where my mother worked for some years.)
Mr. Brennan does a great job of spinning his story. His depiction of growing up Irish in early 20th Century Boston created a world I could easily envision. In a rather original twist, his hero's adventures in WWI were not about blood and glory, but ducking out of work and doing whatever it takes to avoid danger. His tales of bootlegging, of family tension, and of struggling with the decision to do the right thing, regardless of the cost... This was a fantastic read and I look forward to future efforts.
The only problem I had with the book is that Mr. Brennan stated he wrote it to fan the flames of public outcry to overturn the convictions of Sacco and Vanzetti. These two people do not appear in the book until it is half over. Having read the author's intent before buying the book, it kept nagging at the back of my mind until the characters finally appeared. The story focuses on Vanzetti, and presents a rather weak case for his innocence. The main arguement seems to be that Vanzetti was too nice, too self-educated and too peaceful a man to commit murder. Mr. Brennan presents his view that almost everyone wanted these men to be found guilty and ignored evidence that would have vindicated them. While this is certainly possible, it doesn't mean that Sacco and Vanzetti didn't do the crime. The potential evidence presented in the second half makes a weak arguement for reopening the case.
As I've said, it's a great read. It was not the story I expected, but it was definitely a story worth reading.
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