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North River: A Novel Hardcover – June 11, 2007
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Starred Review. The North River is what real New Yorkers call the Hudson. Two blocks from its shore, Dr. James Finbar Delaney lives on Horatio Street in Greenwich Village. He is a GP, servicing the indigent poor. A wounded veteran of World War I, he is despondent that his wife, Molly, has deserted him and that his only child, Grace, has left her son, two-year-old Carlito, in his care. In the dead of winter in the Depression year of 1934, Dr. Delaney knows the cause of death was always life. Delaney is numb from the war and the abandonment of his family. When he saves the life of gangster friend Eddie Corso, Italian hood Frankie Botts is not happy. Delaney can feel the threat to him and his grandson in his bones. To further complicate matters, the FBI shows up looking for Grace. If there's any consolation for Delaney in the chaos that has become his life, it's Carlito and Rose, his Sicilian illegal alien housekeeper, who has become little Carlito's surrogate mother—and Delaney's lover. Soon the North River comes to symbolize Delaney's tormented life, as enemies and loved ones float in it, and Grace, on a liner, returns to New York to further complicate Delaney's new, delicate household. Hamill (Forever; A Drinking Life) has crafted a beautiful novel, rich in New York City detail and ambience, that showcases the power of human goodness and how love, in its many forms, can prevail in an unfair world. 5-city author tour. (June)
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*Starred Review* Famous New York City writer Hamill is as closely identified with his native city as the Empire State Building or the Bowery. As usual, his new novel draws closely and intensely from the streets of New York (details are plentiful, and all of them are just right), but, also usual for him, the book's appeal extends far beyond the five boroughs. The time is the 1930s; New York, as elsewhere, is grim with economic staleness. Add into the stew that is New York life big helpings of political corruption and internecine Mob warfare. Dr. James Delaney is himself of the streets, and when his old friend, a Mob leader, needs emergency care, Delaney steps in; however, by that act, the doctor also steps into a rival Mob conflict. In the meantime, Delaney's teenage daughter has abandoned, literally on his doorstep, her three-year-old son, and now Delaney is called on to gather himself in the face of an obligation bigger than his funk over his runaway daughter and his also-gone-missing wife. He takes on Rose as housekeeper, and her presence in his household soon becomes essential. Hamill is not ordinarily thought of as a historical novelist, but if, as the saying goes, the shoe fits, wear it. It is an extremely good fit here. Brad Hooper
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Dr. Delany's wife, Molly, seems to have left him. She was filled with anger and depression and he could not please her. His young daughter, Grace, leaves her young boy in her father's vestibule for him to nuture until she can satisfy her immediate goal to find her errant husband.
So starts the story of young Carlito, Dr. Delaney's grandson, the woman who cares for him and how this young boy inspires Dr. Delaney to improve his own health and balance his life. Pete Hamill's Dr. Delaney is smart, reads the classics and is more street-wise than one would believe, he can move through both worlds of the Irish and the Italians, The reader can feel his altruism from his morning patient care to his afternoon house calls. I did wonder why his wife and daughter did not appreciate his efforts which should have outweighed their anger at Delaney's enlistment in the war when Grace was an infant. We learn about how the Depression brought about depression in all aspects of daily life.
This a love story, a history lesson and an upclose reality that the "good old days" were anything but.
The main character is a doctor, a veteran of World War I, who sees patients in his home in Greenwich Village and who mourns for his wife who has disappeared. His grown daughter, who had run away to Mexico to become an artist suddenly returns with a three year old son. She leaves the boy with her father and goes off to Europe to look for her estranged husband. What follows is a tender story of how the doctor warms up to the little boy and how he and the woman who he hires to take care of the boy fall into a romance. All this is told against the backdrop of crime and violence that was endemic at that time. There are mob bosses and murders and corruption. There's Saint Patrick's day and drunkenness and family violence. There are medical emergencies and policemen and even the FBI. This is all part of this doctor's world.
Some of the scenes are set in the places where the common people went to escape the harsh realities of the Depression - Coney Island and the Roseland Dance Hall as well as the local Italian restaurant. It is a fast read that I gobbled up in a very short time, smiling in familiar recognition of the New York landmarks and enjoying the well paced heartwarming story that felt very real to me. Basically though, this book is about love: love of the grandfather for his grandson; love of a man and a woman and love of a city that is going through hard times.
I absolutely LOVED this book and know that anyone with a New York background will love it too. And as for the rest of the world, read it and learn about a New York that is no more but will forever live in the a plethora of rich memories.