Sunday, May 29, 2011

Re: On Diagramming (& the Art of Being Right)

Title: North River: A Novel

Author: Pete Hamill

Publisher: Little, Brown

ISBN-13: 978-0-316-34058-8

ISBN-10: 0-316-34058-8

Price: $25.99, Publication Date: 2007, Page Count: 341


When I realized that Pete Hamill wrote North River, I almost let the book lie. Hamill seems more journalist than novelist to me, although a top-notch journalist whose writing has graced the New York Times, the New York Daily News, the New York PostThe New Yorker, and Newsday Still, his early novels seemed too flat for my taste, more journalese than fiction, so I stopped reading his books.


However, the jacket of North River featured a New York City skyline. An ex-New Yorker, I love stories about the Big Apple, and that's exactly where North River is set: New York in the 1930s with gangsters, Tammany hot shots, World War I vets, and prostitutes. Sounds just like Hamill, I thought. Then I noticedNorth River was his ninth novel. Maybe he's improved, I thought. So I took the book home and read it, just to see.


Hamill has improved. He still uses his plain, almost flat, journalistic style of writing, but what a story he pens! It features tall lean Dr. James Delaney whose closest World War I buddy is a hood, Eddie Corso, and that spells trouble. So does Dr. Delaney's daughter, who dashes by on her way from South America to Europe, dropping her three-year-old son, Carlito, in the doctor's vestibule. Naturally, the doctor has to hire a caretaker for his grandson so Dr. Delaney can continue to treat the stream of broken, downtrodden patients that makes up his practice. He hires Rosa Verga.


Both Rosa and the doctor have pasts. He is mourning his wife, Molly, long disappeared and presumed drowned in the North River, which is what New Yorkers called the Hudson then. Rosa, who cracked her husband's skull wide open with a baseball bat, is hiding her past. And the story steps briskly on from there.


Hamill's characters are believable; I particularly enjoyed Rosa. But I loved most the way Hamill recreated the doctor's 1930's Manhattan world. When Dr. Delaney and his grandson, Carlito, begin to explore together, this old world rises right up off the pages. I could just see antique cars spinning their tires on the street, the paddleball purchased in the toy store, Angela's restaurant in Little Italy. And the experience, near the end of the book, of the doctor and Rosa dancing in Roseland.


If you enjoy a story jam packed with persons and places, try North River. Like any good story, its tension increases as you approach the end. The book's resolution is strong, both certain and uncertain until page 340 when Rosa's "God damn you, Dottore" tips the balance.


Marilyn Coffey is an award-winning writer of poetry and a widely published author of prose. Visithttp://www, to purchase her work: Great Plains PatchworkMarcella, or KANSAS QUARTERLY Vol. 15 No. 2.

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