Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Manhattan Beach
by
Jennifer Egan

Rating:

How exciting to choose a book you know nothing about and immediately love it! I had seen Manhattan Beach on display at the library where I work, and the other library book club had already read it, but I never asked my work friend what it was about. And I blindly selected it for my own book club. Talk about being a pantser!

Manhattan Beach has a 3.8 star average rating on Amazon, with over half of the reviewers giving it a 4 or 5, but the rest of the reviews are 1-3 stars. This book is a winner with most and not so much with others. Well, it’s a winner with me! It’s full of complex characters, twisting plot lines and overlaid with the conflict between doing the right thing and doing what you have to do, with heavy consequences on both sides.

Set in New York during the Depression and World War II, the story begins in 1937 with Anna Kerrigan as a young girl. In these early years, Anna has a strong bond with her father, Eddie and she shadows him on mysterious work errands. At home, her mother cares full-time for Anna’s crippled younger sister, Lydia, a source of guilt, shame, resentment and love in different measures for each of them. On one errand, Anna meets the powerful Dexter Styles and without knowing why, senses an important connection between the men.

Eight years later, Eddie is missing and Anna has a job measuring parts at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, the hub of wartime repairs and preparations. And then she meets Styles again at one of his nightclubs. Determined to understand his relationship to her father, Anna sets off on a dangerous course in both her personal life and at work, where she has become the first female civilian diver. In this section, Egan includes interesting descriptions of how divers trained and worked, a dangerous activity and much different from resort dives of today!

What I liked best about Manhattan Beach is the way the author allows the reader inside the heads of her characters. I understood them much better, knowing how they made their decisions and I sometimes liked the ones with questionable morals more, because I could see their predicaments. Several of them grapple with the ethics of their work, and a few will do whatever it takes to protect their family. I particularly liked the slow reveal of Eddie’s character, who travels with many of the wrong people, but has a lifelong desire to do what’s right.

I also enjoyed the way Egan describes New York during this time period. It’s loaded with regular people, gangsters, bankers, and laborers, trying to get by in any way they can and, even when they are at cross purposes, there’s a sense of unity to win the war. Who gets by and who has the upper hand can quickly change, and that’s what kept me happily reading to the finish.

I highly recommend Manhattan Beach to readers who like historical fiction and big stories with strong female characters.

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Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

Brooklyn Toibin

Brooklyn
by
Colm Tóibín

Rating:

Eilis Lacey’s older sister Rose understands the small-town limits of Enniscorthy, Ireland.  The years following World War II have been hard for the Lacey children and their widowed mother.  Brothers Jack, Pat and Martin have left for work in England, leaving Rose and Eilis to look after their mother.

At thirty, it may be too late for Rose, but Eilis has a chance for a better life in America.  And the decision is made when Rose arranges for an Irish priest from Brooklyn to sponsor her sister.  A few weeks later, a stunned and wide-eyed Eilis boards a ship for New York to begin her life.

Eilis settles into a Brooklyn walk-up with a group of women boarders, overseen by the opinionated Mrs. Kehoe and begins her job working the floor at Bartocci’s department store.  The strangeness of her new life overwhelms Eilis, but she keeps busy with work and accounting classes at Brooklyn College.  Slowly, her life changes and when she meets a man at an Irish church dance, Eilis begins to believe she can find happiness in New York.

When tragedy at home calls Eilis back to Ireland, she realizes that her ties to home are much stronger than she knew and she is tormented by indecision.  And her life in New York becomes more remote the longer she stays in Ireland.  Love, loyalty and family pull from two directions and it isn’t until the final pages of this lovely story where Eilis chooses.

Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn is a classic tale about post-war immigration to America.  Readers feel the same mix of optimism and fear that runs through Eilis as she makes her way in an entirely new world.  Tóibín includes many details about 1950s New York, adding unique color and depth to an experience many have shared.  And the author’s strong female characters make this a story as much about gaining independence as it is about love and happiness.  What I enjoyed most was the emerging strength in Eilis as she adapts to change and then confronts the most important decision of her life.

At 262 pages, Brooklyn is fairly short and I would have liked to learn more about some of Tóibín’s lesser characters, including the Lacey brothers, Father Flood and Miss Fortini.  The author hints at interesting details about them and I think the story would have been even stronger if they had played greater roles.  Likewise, the author only touches on the conflicts between the different immigrant nationalities and other post-war tension.  Maybe he chose to only refer to these to add context and perhaps we will see these minor characters in another book.

Of course, if it’s a book that’s become a movie, I’m likely to watch the movie and make the comparison.  In this case, I was delighted.  While the movie, like all adaptations to film, omits layers of details too difficult to include, I thought it kept very close to the characters and story line.  You can learn more about the movie starring Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen and Domhnall Gleeson here.


Follow along as I work my way through my 16 in 16 Challenge!

Book 1 – A Book You Can Finish in a Day:  The Good Neighbor by A.J. Banner
Book 2 – A Book in a Genre You Typically Don’t Read:  The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson
Book 3 – A Book with a Blue Cover:  The Vacationers by Emma Straub
Book 4 – A Book Translated to English:  I Refuse by Per Petterson
Book 5 – A Second Book in a Series:  Brooklyn on Fire by Lawrence H. Levy
Book 6 – A Book To Learn Something New: The Beginner’s Photography Guide by Chris Gatcum
Book 7 – A Book That Was Banned:  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Book 8 – A Book Set Somewhere You’ve Always Wanted to Visit:  Calmer Girls by Jennifer Kelland Perry
Book 9 – A Book with Non-human Characters:  The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

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What’s up next? Second Street Station by Lawrence H. Levy

Second Street Station

Today I started reading Second Street Station – A Mary Handley Mystery, by Lawrence H. Levy. Second Street Station is the first of a new series of mysteries by Levy, in which Mary Handley, whose character is based on a real person, becomes the city’s first policewoman. As Mary works to solve a murder, she meets up with several historical figures, including J.P. Morgan, Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla.

Here’s a detailed book description from Amazon:

A historical mystery featuring the witty and wily Mary Handley, the first woman detective in Brooklyn, as she tries to prove herself in a man’s world while solving a high profile murder.
 
Mary Handley is a not your typical late-nineteenth century lady. She’s fiery, clever, daring—and she’s not about to conform to the gender norms of the day. Not long after being fired from her job at the hat factory for insubordinate behavior, Mary finds herself at the murder scene of Charles Goodrich, the brother of a prominent alderman and former bookkeeper of Thomas Edison. When Mary proves her acumen as a sleuth, she is hired by the Brooklyn police department—as the city’s first female policewoman—to solve the crime. The top brass of the department expect her to fail, but Mary has other plans. As she delves into the mystery, she finds herself questioning the likes of J. P. Morgan, Thomas Edison, and Nikola Tesla. Mary soon discovers the key to solving the case goes well beyond finding a murderer and depends on her ability to unearth the machinations of the city’s most prominent and respected public figures, men who will go to great lengths to protect their secrets.

Much like Mr. Churchill’s Secretary and Maisie Dobbs, Second Street Station presents a portrait of a world plunging into modernity through the eyes of a clever female sleuth. Mary Handley is an unforgettable protagonist whose wit, humor, and charm will delight readers from the very first page.

Be sure to visit Lawrence H. Levy’s website at lawrencehlevy.com.

Photo Credit:  Fran Levy
Photo Credit: Fran Levy

LAWRENCE H. LEVY is a highly regarded film and TV writer who is a Writers Guild Award winner and two-time Emmy nominee. He has written for various hit TV shows such as Family Ties, Saved by the Bell, Roseanne, and SeinfeldSecond Street Station is his debut novel and Brooklyn on Fire is his second book.  Brooklyn on Fire will be available January 19, 2016.

Brooklyn on Fire

You can also check out what readers are saying about Second Street Station on Goodreads.

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What’s up next? America America by Ethan Canin

America America
America America
by
Ethan Canin

I recently enjoyed reading the short story, “The Year of Getting to Know Us” and wanted to read something else by Canin. I found his latest book, America America (2008), at the library and started it this morning. The book takes place during the Nixon era in the 1970s and is about Henry Bonwiller, a powerful senator from New York who is running for president of the United States. The narrator, Corey Sifter, rises from a working-class family to become his aide, and then, in a mix of loyalty, politics, love, sex and all the accompanying questions of truth and morality, the story gets complicated.

I’m looking forward to reading more!

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The Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland

The TranscriptionistThe Transcriptionist
by
Amy Rowland

Rating:

Lena Respass is alone in her job as a transcriptionist for the Record, a major New York newspaper. She’s the last of her profession, made almost completely unnecessary by technological advances, and she sits alone in a room on her building’s eleventh floor, transcribing called-in stories. Stories from Lena’s Dictaphone thread endlessly through her head, even when she’s not working, and they leave her numb and strangely uneasy.

When Lena sees a print story in the Record about Arlene Lebow, a woman who climbed into the lions’ den at the zoo and was killed, she recognizes her. It’s the same woman she recently sat next to on a city bus. She had talked with the Arlene, who was blind, and felt oddly connected to her. Was the woman trying to tell her something?

Lena becomes obsessed with the story and wants to understand why Arlene would choose to end her life in such a violent way. She desperately wants to give Arlene the honor of being remembered. Like the stories she transcribes, Arlene’s death fills Lena’s mind. And these thoughts begin to overlap Lena’s own feelings about being raised on a farm by a strict religious father, about her mother’s death and about the newspaper profession, which to her has taken an unattractive turn. The answers she finds don’t seem to help Lena, however. Instead, she becomes more and more removed from the people around her.

The Transcriptionist is an unusual combination: a story about an emotionally unsettled woman and a commentary on the business of reporting news, especially since 9/11. Right away, Rowland provides a view into the way things are in the newsroom, the hierarchies, the egos, and the competition. She also points to the inevitable technological changes that meet resistance, and it’s incorporated nicely into the plot, with a mysterious feel-good character. In addition, The Transcriptionist gives the reader an unflattering look at reporters’ motives. Do they want to report the news or create fame for themselves? Is it a newspaper’s job to fight the war on terrorism or should they just report the news?

This is Rowland’s debut novel and she knows her material. She’s spent over ten years working at the New York Times, much of it as a transcriptionist, and now as an editor in the Book Review section.

Rowland includes many literary references, which are built into Lena’s tendency to quote books and poetry. It’s one of the things that distances Lena from other people and, in a way, I think, from the reader. Lions and birds, especially pigeons and a predatory falcon, also figure prominently throughout the book, from the lion statues that sit outside the library, to the pigeon outside Lena’s office window, to the mountain lion on the loose during Lena’s childhood, and of course, the lion in the den. The lion and falcon references invite the reader to think about the instinct of killing in nature. The lion kills Arlene by this instinct, but her death leaves the animal, used to being fed, in limbo. Did Arlene’s suicide remind the lion of what its life could be?

I enjoyed reading The Transcriptionist. It’s very different from other books, so it was a nice change and it’s quick and easy. Its difference, however, makes it a bit of a quirky read. But I like books that make you think after you’ve finished and The Transcriptionist does that.

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What’s up next? The Transcriptionist, by Amy Rowland

The Transcriptionist

Today I started reading Amy Rowland’s debut novel, The Transcriptionist. It’s a story about Lena, who works as a transcriptionist for the Record, a big newspaper in New York. Lena works alone in a room on the eleventh floor, transcribing reporters’ stories. She’s the last of her profession at the paper, as technology has eliminated the need for people like her.

One day, Lena sees an article about a woman who was attacked and killed by lions in the city zoo. When she sees the unidentified woman’s picture in the paper, she realizes it’s someone she had met and talked to just a few days earlier while riding a city bus.

As she tries to understand why the woman, who was blind, would enter the lions’ den, Lena makes discoveries that question the nature of newspaper reporting at the Record. In the process, she faces personal challenges to break away from what she calls her “secondhand life.”

Amy Rowland worked as a transcriptionist for ten years at the New York Times. She currently works as an editor for the Book Review at the Times.

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A re-blog of Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Hi Everyone,

I’m almost finished reading The Inquisitor’s Mark, by Dianne Salerni.  It’s an excellent read and I’m looking forward to finding out what happens next!  This is the second book in a great Young Adult series.  Should be finished by tomorrow…

InquisitorsMark_revised_final

In the meantime, my Facebook Book Group and I have been having a great time talking about Breakfast at Tiffany’s, by Truman Capote.  Here’s my post from a few months ago.  I think Truman Capote was an excellent writer and quite a personality.  It’s very interesting to see the differences between the book and the movie.  And his interviews with David Frost and Dick Cavett are very entertaining!

What’s Holly Golightly really like?

Breakfast at Tiffany's book cover

Breakfast at Tiffany’s
by Truman Capote
Rating:
4 book marks

It’s impossible not to think about Audrey Hepburn when you meet the real Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, by Truman Capote. It’s been awhile since I watched the movie, which stars Hepburn, George Peppard and Patricia Neal. George Axelrod wrote the screenplay and the movie was directed by Blake Edwards. It’s so easy to picture Hepburn in that apartment, to hear her voice and remember her sophisticated clothes. Oh to be able to carry yourself like that…

But after a few pages, despite an accurate dialogue, I realized that Capote’s Holly is a much different and younger character and that the movie glosses over some things, embellishes others, adds a plot line and changes the ending! I’ve always remembered loving the movie, but the book is much better.

This novella, a little over one hundred pages, is really a character sketch of Holly. The narrator is Holly’s neighbor, unnamed in the book, a writer who befriends her and a few years later, tries to guess what has become of her.

And she is a girl, nineteen years old, a run-away from a sad past, who makes her money entertaining men. And she makes more money on the side visiting a Mafia boss in prison and delivering coded messages that help run a drug cartel.

I remember the movie being rather light and romantic and thinking that Holly has it all together, despite her crazy life. Her source of income is barely explained in the movie, and although Holly jokes in the book about being paid for her “trips to the powder room,” there’s a deeper sadness in her and a roughness just below the surface that makes a much more complex character.

The narrator has a platonic relationship with Holly and Capote raises the question of all the characters’ sexuality throughout the story. Other characters remind me a little bit of aimless members of an earlier lost generation: Mag Wildwood, Rusty Trawler, and José Jbarra-Jaegar are examples of people who come into Holly’s life, become seemingly entrenched, and then disappear.

The themes of ownership, belonging and loss also run through the story. People connect and disconnect and Holly seems to not care, but suffers the most. She copes by developing superficial relationships and laying down shallow roots. Holly’s empty apartment and an unnamed cat are good examples of a life that is only semi-permanent. And when Doc Golightly shows up, she tries to explain away her childhood marriage and what their relationship means. “Doc really loves me, you know. And I love him. He may have looked old and tacky to you. But you don’t know the sweetness of him, the confidence he can give to birds and brats and fragile things like that. Anyone who ever gave you confidence, you owe them a lot.”

Everything changes when Holly learns about her brother, Fred, and we realize that Fred is the one person Holly has been clinging to the most. And when her business arrangement with Sally Tomato at Sing Sing falls apart, Capote leaves us wondering what Holly will do, or what will happen to her.

If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, I’ll keep the ending out of my review. But I do think the different ending in the book is much better, and truer to Holly’s character.

On a minor note, I was glad to see that Mr. Yunioshi, Holly’s Japanese neighbor, is not the crazy and inappropriate character portrayed by Mickey Rooney in the movie, a definite cringe-worthy moment. Rooney once insisted that his portrayal received positive reviews, including Chinese and Japanese fans who told him he was hilarious. But he later admitted his shame and regret in his autobiography, Life Is Too Short. There are also moments in the book, however, that reveal the racial prejudices of the times, something that jumps out when you read fiction from an earlier time.

For the record, Truman Capote was not happy with the movie version. He wanted Marilyn Monroe to play the part of Holly, and was dissatisfied with all aspects of the film. After the film was released, Capote commented, “Holly Golightly was real-a tough character, not an Audrey Hepburn type at all. The film became a mawkish valentine to New York City and Holly, and, as a result, was thin and pretty, whereas it should have been rich and ugly. It bore as much resemblance to my work as the Rockettes do to Ulanova.” (http://www.tcm.com/this-month/article/156635|0/Trivia.html)

Check out these links for more information about the book and the movie.

http://news.moviefone.com/2011/10/05/25-things-breakfast-at-tiffanys-anniversary/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breakfast_at_Tiffany%27s_%28novella%29

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Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

Breakfast at Tiffany's book cover
Breakfast at Tiffany’s

by
Truman Capote

Rating:

It’s impossible not to think about Audrey Hepburn when you meet the real Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, by Truman Capote. It’s been awhile since I watched the movie, which stars Hepburn, George Peppard and Patricia Neal. George Axelrod wrote the screenplay and the movie was directed by Blake Edwards. It’s so easy to picture Hepburn in that apartment, to hear her voice and remember her sophisticated clothes. Oh to be able to carry yourself like that…

But after a few pages, despite an accurate dialogue, I realized that Capote’s Holly is a much different and younger character and that the movie glosses over some things, embellishes others, adds a plot line and changes the ending! I’ve always remembered loving the movie, but the book is much better.

This novella, a little over one hundred pages, is really a character sketch of Holly. The narrator is Holly’s neighbor, unnamed in the book, a writer who befriends her and a few years later, tries to guess what has become of her.

And she is a girl, nineteen years old, a run-away from a sad past, who makes her money entertaining men. And she makes more money on the side visiting a Mafia boss in prison and delivering coded messages that help run a drug cartel.

I remember the movie being rather light and romantic and thinking that Holly has it all together, despite her crazy life. Her source of income is barely explained in the movie, and although Holly jokes in the book about being paid for her “trips to the powder room,” there’s a deeper sadness in her and a roughness just below the surface that makes a much more complex character.

The narrator has a platonic relationship with Holly and Capote raises the question of all the characters’ sexuality throughout the story. Other characters remind me a little bit of aimless members of an earlier lost generation: Mag Wildwood, Rusty Trawler, and José Jbarra-Jaegar are examples of people who come into Holly’s life, become seemingly entrenched, and then disappear.

The themes of ownership, belonging and loss also run through the story. People connect and disconnect and Holly seems to not care, but suffers the most. She copes by developing superficial relationships and laying down shallow roots. Holly’s empty apartment and an unnamed cat are good examples of a life that is only semi-permanent. And when Doc Golightly shows up, she tries to explain away her childhood marriage and what their relationship means. “Doc really loves me, you know. And I love him. He may have looked old and tacky to you. But you don’t know the sweetness of him, the confidence he can give to birds and brats and fragile things like that. Anyone who ever gave you confidence, you owe them a lot.”

Everything changes when Holly learns about her brother, Fred, and we realize that Fred is the one person Holly has been clinging to the most. And when her business arrangement with Sally Tomato at Sing Sing falls apart, Capote leaves us wondering what Holly will do, or what will happen to her.

If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, I’ll keep the ending out of my review. But I do think the different ending in the book is much better, and truer to Holly’s character.

On a minor note, I was glad to see that Mr. Yunioshi, Holly’s Japanese neighbor, is not the crazy and inappropriate character portrayed by Mickey Rooney in the movie, a definite cringe-worthy moment. Rooney once insisted that his portrayal received positive reviews, including Chinese and Japanese fans who told him he was hilarious. But he later admitted his shame and regret in his autobiography, Life Is Too Short. There are also moments in the book, however, that reveal the racial prejudices of the times, something that jumps out when you read fiction from an earlier time.

For the record, Truman Capote was not happy with the movie version. He wanted Marilyn Monroe to play the part of Holly, and was dissatisfied with all aspects of the film. After the film was released, Capote commented, “Holly Golightly was real-a tough character, not an Audrey Hepburn type at all. The film became a mawkish valentine to New York City and Holly, and, as a result, was thin and pretty, whereas it should have been rich and ugly. It bore as much resemblance to my work as the Rockettes do to Ulanova.” Check out this article on tcm.com.

These links provide more information about the book and the movie:

moviefone.com article

Wikipedia

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Billy Bathgate movie review

Billy Bathgate movie

Rating: ***

Here’s an okay movie based on a really great book. (Read my review of the book here.) This 1991 film stars Dustin Hoffman, Nicole Kidman, Loren Dean, Bruce Willis, and Steven Hill. I’m not exactly sure why the movie doesn’t work, but I think it has something to do with the casting and the scenery. And despite the big names, the whole movie comes across as bland and too perfect, with scenes that resemble a lot of other gangster movies.

To begin with, I pictured Billy Bathgate as a sharp, wiry and wily street-smart teenage boy, but Loren Dean’s Billy looks so wholesome and so well-groomed in the movie that it’s hard to believe he’d ever be part of a gang. And the Bronx tenements where Billy lives look more like a slightly crowded, but colorful and friendly place than they do a dangerous neighborhood.

Here’s another problem: Dustin Hoffman may resemble the real Dutch Schultz, but I think it ends there. He doesn’t come across as the hot-head, unpredictable and insane violent mobster portrayed by E. L. Doctorow in the book. Instead, he’s mostly mannerly and soft-spoken and friendly. Nicole Kidman plays Drew Preston. She is certainly beautiful, but she too seems one-dimensional, different from the enigmatic Drew Preston I had imagined. Bruce Willis (Bo Weinberg) plays a great pretty boy wise-guy, but I had a different character in mind when I read the book, someone tougher and not so smooth.

While these characters don’t seem to fit, I did enjoy watching the guys in Schultz’s entourage. Steven Hill plays a different Otto Berman, but I think it’s an improvement from the humpbacked, colorfully dressed book Otto. And I think he is the best part of this movie. In addition, while I had a hard time picturing what Lulu was like, I think John Costelloe does a good job portraying him in the movie. It was also fun to see Steve Buscemi as Irving, since he is so great in Boardwalk Empire!

So all-in-all, an unremarkable film. It’s hard to resist watching the movie version of a book you’ve enjoyed, but this one was disappointing. The ending was also slightly different and that surprised me, since the twist in the book was just right.

What great books have been made into great movies? What makes them work? I can think of a couple. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell is just as great as the book. And a more appropriate comparison is The Godfather, by Mario Puzo, one of my favorites.

I can also think of some clunkers. Bonfire of the Vanities, by Tom Wolfe is a great book, but the movie was not good at all. And of course, my number-one favorite book, Youngblood Hawke, by Herman Wouk did not make a great film, even as a recent remake!

Can you add any to these good and bad lists?

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Billy Bathgate by E. L. Doctorow

Billy Bathgate
by
E. L. Doctorow

Rating:

If you like intelligent and well-written historical fiction and New York stories about organized crime during the 1930s, check out Billy Bathgate, by E. L. Doctorow. Published in 1989, Billy Bathgate won both the National Book Critics Circle award for fiction and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. The 1991 movie stars Dustin Hoffman, Nicole Kidman, Loren Dean, Bruce Willis, Steven Hill and Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire).

Billy Bathgate is a fifteen-year-old boy from the Bronx who becomes a protégé of the notorious Dutch Schultz, a hot-head New York mobster who made his money during the 1930s running beer and controlling the numbers racket. Billy is a fictional character, but he moves with the very real Schultz and his advisers, including Schultz’s genius accountant, Otto “Abbadabba” Berman, hit man Lulu Rosenkrantz and lawyer Dixie Davis. With no father and a mother who is not altogether with it, Billy looks to Schultz and Berman to show him how to make it in the world. His initiation into the gang begins with a chilling murder at sea, during which one of Schultz’s associates, Bo Weinberg, has his feet set in a tub of cement.

But Billy has joined the gang at the end of Dutch Schultz’s reign over organized crime in his part of New York. Narrated through Billy’s voice, the story tells of Schultz’s wildly unpredictable and violent temper and of his upcoming tax evasion trial. Drew Preston is a young and beautiful society woman who is difficult to read. She becomes Schultz’s companion and a dangerous temptation for Billy.

Beating the tax charges might not be enough to keep Schultz out of trouble. Schultz’s end is near when his political connections fall through, and his plans to kill Thomas Dewey, a U.S. attorney and prosecutor, are unsupported.

Billy’s reflections are both street-smart and deep and this point of view presents a surprising narration. He is naïve and sweet and crude and eloquent at the same time. His reader appeal and respect is in his innocence and in his ability to take care of himself. And Doctorow has a way of making Schultz’s illegal and violent henchmen seem fatherly at times. He presents them as professionals who take extreme pride in what they do, from neatly rolling up the cuffs of the doomed Weinberg to shooting precisely, to performing elaborate acrobatics with numbers.

I enjoyed reading Billy Bathgate because the author does a great job showing the positives and obvious negatives of these complex characters and historical figures.  Billy also makes some terrific philosophical and spiritual observations about this life.

Here are a few of my favorites:

When Billy describes the sounds of an unexpected murder, he says, “…and when its echoes died away I heard the silence of the sudden subtraction from the universe of a life…” p. 196

As he reflects on the importance of money, Billy says, “It didn’t matter how the money stopped flowing, in or out, the result was equally disastrous, the whole system was in jeopardy, just as, if the earth stopped turning, according to what a teacher explained to us once in the planetarium, it would shake itself to pieces.” p. 280

And when he thinks about the men who died at the Palace Chophouse, he remarks, “What happened to the skills of a man when he died, that he knew how to play the piano, for instance, or in Irving’s case to tie knots, to roll up pant legs, to walk easily over a heaving sea?” p. 312.

I like Doctorow’s writing style. He uses long sentences, with lots of commas and they often take up an entire page. But they always return to the central point and I think they are easy to follow. The book has the inevitable and uncomfortable violent scenes, but a story like this could not be told without them, so they serve a necessary purpose.

This is a very entertaining and educational read and it describes a unique period of time in New York City. And it’s so well-written that it is just as great now as it was twenty-five years ago!

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