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Saint Mazie: A Novel Hardcover – June 2, 2015
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An Amazon Best Book of June 2015: Jami Attenberg’s Saint Mazie couldn’t be more different from her popular The Middlesteins, in that it is a) historical not contemporary, b) loosely based on a real woman who lived in early 20th century New York City instead of on an all-too-real fictional character in suburban Chicago and c) told as an oral history instead of as a traditional narrative. Still, this novel exhibits the same kind of wit and depth and heart of the earlier one. Mazie Phillips was a depression-era movie-theater-owner in New York during the Depression; she was big-hearted and bawdy, enough of a neighborhood figure that she became the subject of a 1940 New Yorker profile by the journalist Joseph Mitchell. Starting with his observations—“Mazie has a genuine fondness for bums and undoubtedly knows more bums than any other person in the city”—Attenberg weaves an astonishingly heartfelt story of poverty and loss (one of Mazie’s beloved, orphaned sisters moves to California to become a dancer and is essentially lost to her forever), unconventionality (there’s a lot of socially “inappropriate” sex and love in this book) and, to use a word from that era, “moxie.” With all her tough talk and bootstrap-pulling, Mazie could grow into a cliché – the loose woman with a heart of gold – but Attenberg never lets her, preferring instead to take Mitchell’s sketch and draw all over it with fictional interviews and diaries until Mazie becomes a complex and irresistible real-life woman. She may have lived in a very specific era, but thanks to Attenberg, she has become a character for the ages. --Sara Nelson
"Full of love and drink and dirty sex and nobility.... Attenberg takes Mitchell's witty, colorful piece and spins it into something equally lively and new."―New York Times Book Review
"Tender-hearted and loose-living, Mazie is the unlikely guardian angel of New York City's Depression-Era down-and-outs. You'll love this smart, touching novel that brings her world to life."―People
"Boisterous and compassionate."―O Magazine
"Delightful . . . [an] often ebullient tale about the simple pleasures of a working life. . . . Thanks to the wonderful Jami Attenberg (with an assist from the legendary Joseph Mitchell) Mazie does live on, an actual 20th century New York City saint."―NPR
"Attenberg is a nimble and inventive storyteller with a particular knack for getting at the heart of outsized characters. . . . [she] proves her chops as a historical novelist by perfectly capturing Mazie's jazz-age voice, which ranges from clipped and vulgar to melancholy and lyrical. Attenberg also sidesteps many of the pitfalls of the form: no day-by-day plodding through the decades, no unedited research notes masquerading as dialogue. She resists any plot twist or final revelation to provide a tidy psychological explanation for Mazie Phillips-Gordon sainthood."―Washington Post
"[F]resh and witty... SAINT MAZIE looks deep into the spirit of generosity. Jami Attenberg's Mazie lives a very big life in a very small space, turning her darkest experiences into something inspiring."―Wall Street Journal
"Attenberg captures Mazie's voice so vividly you can close the book and still hear her talking. She is a tremendous achievement. ...[A] bold, magnificent book about family, altruism, women and freedom, as well as a love letter to New York and a timely social manifesto for the 21st century."―The Guardian
"Attenberg's style, at turns lyrical and blunt, is a strong match for Mazie. . . .This voice-pleasantly tinged with jazz age argot, refreshingly modern in its honesty, and always intimate-is Attenberg's great achievement in SAINT MAZIE. ...[A] boisterous, deep, provocative book."―Boston Globe
"A winning novel and a lovely tribute to a New Yorker whose only claim to fame is her outsized kindness. Her Mazie is richly imagined and three-dimensional, and in these pages she lives forever."―Los Angeles Times
"Attenberg has an impressive ability to capture unique voices and make these characters authentic and distinctive... the voices in Saint Mazie ring out and linger, bringing to life this specific place and time in New York-and American-history."―Dallas Morning News
"[I]ngeniously constructed.... An attentive character study that also happens to be rich in city lore and period detail, SAINT MAZIE is an edifying, companionable and moving novel."―Kansas City Star
"[Attenberg] nails Mazie's irresistible combination of sweet and seedy, tough and tender."―Miami Herald
"A funny, touching novel."―Vanity Fair
"Impressive . . . Attenberg excels at developing Mazie's voice as she grows from an impetuous, witty girl, into a shrewd-yet-selfless character. But the book is largely about the silent tragedies of womanhood, and the different forms love and loneliness can take . . . What Saint Mazie is most concerned with: how to be a human being."―Bust Magazine
"The hugely talented Jami Attenberg, most recently author of The Middlesteins, has built a novel based on an imagined diary of Mazie Phillips, a Bowery movie-theater proprietress."―New York Magazine
"The Middlesteins author Jami Attenberg has traded writing about the Midwest for Jazz Age New York-and, oh, what a glorious swap it is. If you love historical stories with bold language that vividly paint a picture of another era, you'll be so happy to spend your summer days alongside Mazie Phillips, the real-life proprietress of a downtown NYC movie theater called The Venice. Take a peek inside Mazie's diary, and get swept away."―Bustle, "The 17 Best Books of Summer"
"Entertaining . . . A fascinating portrait of early 20th-century New York and of an unlikely champion of the dispossessed."―BookPage
"SAINT MAZIE is a love letter to a New York City that doesn't exist anymore-the gritty, working-class Lower East Side and Coney Island that your grandparents might remember...genuine and relatable."―Condé Nast Traveler
"A raw, boisterous, generous novel with a heroine to match and New York in its soul, Saint Mazie offers proof again that Jami Attenberg is a brilliant, lion-hearted storyteller."―Maggie Shipstead, author of Astonish Me and Seating Arrangements
"With SAINT MAZIE, Jami Attenberg has crafted a tale that is somehow both a love song and a gut punch at once, and will leave you all the better for having read it. When I finished reading, I wanted to start all over again."―Therese Anne Fowler, author of Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald
"Jami Attenberg is a master at creating complex and compelling characters. She did it with Edie Middlestein of The Middlesteins, and she's done it again with Mazie Phillips-Gordon of SAINT MAZIE. While Mazie is an actual historical figure, in Attenberg's adept hands, she blossoms as a multidimensional woman who helped the down-and-out in New York City during and after the Depression, while stirring up her own mischief and bad behavior. A wonderful and thoughtful read, as relevant then as it is today, SAINT MAZIE is not to be missed."―B.A. Shapiro, New York Times bestselling author of The Art Forger
"SAINT MAZIE is a novel with as much style and moxie as its titular character. I missed Mazie Gordon-Phillips and her family when I was finished reading, but I missed New York, too. By telling this one woman's story, Jami Attenberg has managed to write an ode to New Yorkers of every generation. She is a true poet of the city."―Gabrielle Zevin, author of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
"I'd love to be Jami Attenberg for a day to see what she sees. The next best thing is to read the touching, funny, and wise SAINT MAZIE, which is as difficult to categorize as the hard-living, heart-breaking, soul-saving ticket taker it is about."―Charlotte Rogan, author of The Lifeboat
"SAINT MAZIE moves with joy and wonder through the past. This book has such brio, warmth, intelligence and personality it seems a wonder it is made of mere words."―Rebecca Lee, author of Bobcat & Other Stories
"Jami Attenberg is a beautiful, humane, and extremely funny writer, and SAINT MAZIE-the story of a flawed, spiky, golden-hearted, broken-hearted broad, a kind of personification of the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the first years of the 20th century-is a glorious book."―Louisa Young, author of My Dear I Wanted to Tell You
"[A] gorgeous love letter to the city...a compulsively readable tribute to a memorable and heroic New Yorker."―Vulture
Top customer reviews
Author Jami Attenberg has taken the bare facts of Mazie Gordon's life and has written a novel based upon those facts. She has added her own interpretation of Mazie's life and extrapolated a story. How much of the story is true is unclear, past the basic facts. But Attenberg - whose latest novel was "The Middlesteins" - has created a woman who, both in her own words in diary form and those of relatives and friends, is someone you won't soon forget. She was the owner of a theater and she worked the box office. Facing the street, she saw the rough and real life of Depression-era New York City and felt compelled to help those she could. But she had her own life, too, and it was filled with interesting people who she loved and who loved her.
I finished the book a bit curious about why Jami Attenberg chose to write a fictional account of the life of Mazie Gordon, rather than a non-fictional one. I suppose I would have preferred reading a biography of this fascinating woman who helped so many needy. I hope that someone will write a bio of Mazie. Until then, I'm satisfied with this excellent novel.