102 of 105 people found the following review helpful
Mythical New York,
This review is from: Up in the Old Hotel (Paperback)
Joseph Mitchell may be the best writer ever to have worked on the 'New Yorker' staff (the other contenders would include Edmund Wilson and A. J. Liebling). Every story in this long book is worth reading, and re-reading; the later pieces, from 'The Bottom of the Harbour' and especially 'Joe Gould's Secret' are tours-de-force of reporting. Mitchell invests his characters with so much life that they take on almost mythical proportions, without ever sacrificing their humanity. Although Mitchell often chose to write about people on the margins of society -- a homeless beggar like Joe Gould, a bearded lady, the hard-drinking Hugh Flood -- he never did so in a patronising manner. He admires these people not because of their struggles or hard lives, but despite them: he sees them, and makes us see them, as fellow human beings, not social welfare cases. Mitchell freely admits that listening to Joe Gould was a strain, and that Gould could be, like people who own houses and property and know where their next meal is coming from, selfish and mean-spirited; far from making Gould unattractive, this serves to make him come alive - homeless people don't become plaster saints, and it's silly to pretend otherwise. A key component in these stories is Mitchell's own persona, which is much like his prose style: quiet, unassertive, but immensely attractive. It is a great pity that, for whatever reason, Mitchell fell silent for the last thirty years of his life; but any sadness can be assuaged by dipping back into 'Up in the Old Hotel', where Mitchell's brilliant handling of detail and character -- and his shapely way with the structure of a profile, always dovetailing to a perfect close -- can be sampled time and again.