Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg

Library Copy

Over on Tumblr, there's a great little blog called The Reblog Book Club - a kind of reading group where they discuss up-and-coming books. For the better part of the summer, the Book Du Jour was Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg. I'm not a huge participant in reading groups (I'm not organized enough for it) but I really wanted to read this book. To my luck, I found it at my new library on my very first visit!

Saint Mazie, is a novel inspired by the real life of Mazie Phillips - a buxom, raspy-voiced, bottle blonde from the Prohibition (I'm personally very interested in de-glamorized POV from this time period) who referred to herself as a "good time gal" but took the bums on the street under her wing. She's brassy, she's tough, she is exactly what you'd think of when you hear someone talking about "Old Broads." If I knew Mazie irl, I might actually be a little afraid of her. She's intimidating, but that's her shtick. You can be an intimidating woman and still be capable of goodness, you know? She's a really complicated - and interesting - character. Though this fictionalized version of her is inspired by a real person, there's still not a whole lot known about her. However, since the real woman only died about 50 years ago, there's still a lot of people who did know her and could have shared some first hand accounts of her. But try to keep them separate in your mind!
an "artsy" picture of my new library's entrance
Anyway. The book. I typically find books with multiple points of view frustrating to read. I don't know why this device is really common in most things I read lately. Someone who works in publishing might be able to explain this trend. But this time around, my personal preferences aside, I think it was successful and worked out well. The meat of the novel is told through Mazie's diary, starting from her childhood on through her middle-aged adulthood. She lives with her sisters and brother-in-law in New York. Her brother-in-law, a businessman, owns several businesses including a movie theater - Mazie spends several decades working in the ticket booth. At first unwillingly, she soon sees it as home, her clientele become family.
The diary entries are broken up between very frank interviews with people who knew her or about the era she lived in. VERY frank. And though Mazie called herself a "good time gal" and often beat herself up about being "no good," here's the thing about saints (from a practicing Catholic) - the saints weren't even saints. They were human and some of them did some pretty rotten stuff - they were sinners, not just because they broke some societal, morally incorrect rule, but because sinning actually means to do something unloving to God. Saints are our proof that you can be a good person even when you might not think you are. Mazie Was a good person. Rough around the edges, scandalous, tougher than hippie bread, but she fought to help those that couldn't help themselves.
Also interesting about Mazie (as the book character) is that though there was pressure to get married and become a mother, she doesn't. Not because she doesn't always want to (she desperately wants to be loved) but because she chooses not to. Sometimes fate helps her make that choice. But it makes her stand out even more. This is the sort of book that, now that I'm done, I won't be able to forget for a long time.

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