Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg

maizieThis was a strange book; I was fascinated with the story and loved Mazie’s unique voice.  But by the end I wasn’t quite in love with it.

Mazie is based on a real-life woman who helped the poor during the Depression. Her family owns a theater and she spends most of her time sitting in the ticket booth. It’s an odd story about an odd character. From the start, Mazie cares nothing about people’s opinions, and she doesn’t feel restricted by the gender norms of the time. She’s appealing because she lives a wild life; she goes out when she pleases, she fools around and she drinks.

She seems selfish at first, but as she gets older, she’s there for her family when they need her. Years ago, her older sister Rosie took her and her younger sister in, and Mazie constantly tries to return the favor, even though it means sitting in a theater ticket booth all day, every day.  This is a story about what it means to be free, and what it means to be good.  Mazie is bad by society’s standards, but she’s good to people when it counts.

If you can’t see the beauty in the dirt then I feel sorry for you. And if you can’t see why these streets are special, then just go home already.

It’s told in interview and diary form, and I liked the way the diary entries and interviews were written like real diary entries and interviews. Instead of long descriptions and dialogue, Mazie’s diary gives us short, emotional bursts that don’t tell us much. In some ways, I loved the way this book is written, but other times I was frustrated by it. A more traditional book would have given me a much fuller picture of the war years and the Depression. This is told strictly through the opinions of Mazie and others, and at times she sees the world through a pretty narrow lens.  As a result, it’s focused much more on local issues in New York than on the bigger context; but if you’re interested in New York history you’ll love this book.

Mazie’s life starts out full of joy but as her life goes on she has to deal with a lot of heartbreak. She’s inspiring because the more she struggles, the more she tries to help others. Yet at the same time, she does very little for herself, and I had a hard time admiring that.

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