How’s this for a summary? “The story of a Jazz Age party girl who winds up in a cage as a ticket-taker in a Depression-era Lower East Side movie theater, Jami Attenberg’s Saint Mazie is full of love and drink and dirty sex and nobility and beef stew.”
That is how Marjorie Ingall, writing for the upcoming NYT Sunday Book Review, describes Jami Attenberg’s newest novel.
Saint Mazie (Hachette/Grand Central; Hachette Audio; OverDrive Sample) is inspired by the real life Mazie P. Gordon, a woman who lived in NYC, sold tickets at the Venice Theater in the Bowery, and spent her evenings helping the downtrodden. She was the focus of a Joseph Mitchell profile published in the New Yorker in 1940, and later published in the collection, Up In The Old Hotel (RH/Vintage).
The structure of Saint Mazie is a bit hard to describe, but Hannah Gersen writing for The Millions seems to nail it: “Saint Mazie is a collage of voices taken from Mazie’s diary entries, postcards, scraps of Mazie’s unpublished memoir, and interviews with people who knew Mazie … about half the novel consists of her plainspoken, melancholy diary entries, but there are also present-day voices, interviewed by an unseen documentarian, who provide historical information and personal anecdotes about Mazie.”
Library orders are light, due to the less than enthusiastic trade reviews and the less-than-anticipated popularity of Attenberg’s heavily-promoted previous novel, The Middlesteins.
But the consumer press has been much more enthusiastic about Mazie.
In addition to the positive reception in the NYT and The Millions, Alan Cheuse, reviewing for NPR says that “Mazie’s story unfolds with simplicity and grace… all of these voices taken together make for an augmented story that’s easy to follow and delightful to contemplate; a straightforward, direct, stark sometimes (especially during the Depression years), but often ebullient tale about the simple pleasures of a working life.”
Bustle, listing it as one of “The 17 Best Books of Summer” says: “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.”
As we mentioned at the start of the month, it is one of Amazon’s Best Books of June, one of the ten books the Wall Street Journal picked for its summer reading list, and is on Entertainment Weekly’s summer list. It was also a favorite with our GalleyChatters as far back as March.
Reaction was strong at BEA as well. Jen Dayton of Darien Public Library said pointedly at the Shout ’n’ Share, “this is NOT The Middlesteins” and went on to enthuse that Mazie captured her heart.
Keep a weather eye out. Holds are light now, but may grow with word of mouth and even if they don’t, with its catchy cover, real-life background and strong story line, this is a book with browsing appeal. You won’t lose by buying more copies.