Friday, July 15, 2016


Saint Mazie, Jami Attenberg, Grand Central Publishing, 2015, 324 pp

Mazie Phillips is the daughter of a bad father and his oppressed wife. At some point in their childhood, the eldest sister Rosie left home and got established in New York City. A year later Rosie came and got the two younger sisters, Mazie and Jeanie. Rosie by then had a husband named Louis and the two of them proceed to raise the younger sisters.

The form of the novel is a bit wonky. Mazie's story is told from several intermingled viewpoints including her diary, people who knew her over the years, and someone who is trying to get Mazie to write her life story. Despite the patchy way in which this form reveals that life, it does all come together by the end.

The "family" of Louis, Rosie, Mazie and Jeanie is not quite like the families one usually reads about in novels. That is why I ended up liking the book so much. No one is privileged or even normal. I found a few similarities to a couple of Amy Bloom's novels: Away and Lucky Us. In fact, I completely love Amy Bloom and am glad to have found an author like her.

Rosie does her best trying to raise her sisters, but she has her own troubles and eventually the girls grow up and get away from her. They are all unlucky in love and relationships and friendships but Mazie is the one who ends up caring for the lot of them. In addition she takes on many of the bums in the neighborhood, especially during the Depression and helps them in a warmhearted and non-judgemental fashion.

The book is a glittering yet raunchy piece of historical fiction that brings to life the lesser streets of New York City from 1907 to 1939: the Jazz Age, the Suffrage movement, prohibition, and the Depression. Inspired by the essay "Mazie" in Joseph Mitchell's Up In the Old Hotel, Ms Attenberg carries it off with humor, pathos and a ton of heart. Mazie, who was Jewish but whose best friend was a nun, who drank and smoked and had many lovers, came by her sainthood in the usual way: through love, suffering, pity, and hardship.

The story closes with her last diary entry and by then you have gotten to know a character you will be unlikely to forget.

(Saint Mazie is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)


  1. What an intriguing review! The book sounds very much worth a read.

    1. I was pleasantly surprised. Thank you Dorothy.

  2. I've read great reviews of this book, yours included, so I guess I should read it at some point.

  3. Good Carmen. I was pleased to find that the reviews were true and not just hype.

  4. Mazie seems to cover quite a bit of ground in history. Sounds like quite a character. thx for the word.