Saint Mazie

Saint Mazie

by Jami Attenberg

Overview: Meet Mazie Phillips: big-hearted and bawdy, she's the truth-telling proprietress of The Venice, the famed New York City movie theater. It's the Jazz Age, with romance and booze aplenty—even when Prohibition kicks in—and Mazie never turns down a night on the town. But her high spirits mask a childhood rooted in poverty, and her diary, always close at hand, holds her dearest secrets.

When the Great Depression hits, Mazie's life is on the brink of transformation. Addicts and bums roam the Bowery; homelessness is rampant. If Mazie won't help them, then who? When she opens the doors of The Venice to those in need, this ticket taking, fun-time girl becomes the beating heart of the Lower East Side, and in defining one neighborhood helps define the city.

Then, more than ninety years after Mazie began her diary, it's discovered by a documentarian in search of a good story. Who was Mazie Phillips, really? A chorus of voices from the past and present fill in some of the mysterious blanks of her adventurous life.

Inspired by the life of a woman who was profiled in Joseph Mitchell's classic Up in the Old Hotel, SAINT MAZIE is infused with Jami Attenberg's signature wit, bravery, and heart. Mazie's rise to "sainthood"—and her irrepressible spirit—is unforgettable.

Gail Reid (02/26/16): I agree wholeheartedly with Debbie's and Judy's reviews of Saint Mazie. Mazie Phillips was a unique character whose generosity and thoughtfulness on the streets of the Bowery during the Depression makes her stand out as an unheralded heroine. Mazie is the proprietress of a local cinema and spends every day for decades selling tickets from her cage. From that perspective, she follows the day-to-day lives of New Yorkers and when the Depression hits, she shares any extra funds with the people of the street. Mazie is not a saint in any conventional sense. She likes to drink at bars, flirt with men and live somewhat untraditionally in spite of caring for her older sister with mental illness.

The story is told through the eyes of a fictional documentarian who intersperses excerpts from Mazie's diary with interviews of a local historian, a descendant of Mazie's employee, and a 100 year old surviving neighbor and friend. Because all of these excerpts are brief and told from different perspectives, the story moves at a quick pace and engages the reader.
Rating: ****

Debbie Weiss (02/15/16): Saint Mazie is not a book I would normally choose to read on my own. However, it was the selection of my book club for this coming month and I picked it up at the library. I am really glad that I had the opportunity to read this interesting biography. Mazie Phillips was a complicated individual who lived in NYC during the Depression. She was raised by her sister Rosie and Rosie's husband and she had a wild and free spirit. To look at her life, one might say that she was "loose with the men" and had no direction or goals. How deceiving! Mazie felt an obligation to look out for the homeless men on the Bowery and on the streets of NYC. She had some extra money and she felt it was her calling to use the money to help these individuals who were down on their luck. People like Mazie are usually overlooked in life, but they continue to do their good deeds without any fanfare. I liked Mazie Phillips and I respected her.
Rating: ****

Judy Stanton (02/01/16): Jami Attenberg's presentation at the Jewish Book Festival led me to want to read this interesting story of the Jewish woman with a heart as big as a saint. Mazie Pillips saw the downtrodden during the Great Depression, her view coming from the window at the Venice Theater ticket booth. Marie was such an interesting character. She was Jewish but she befriended a nun and went to services and confession at church. She was wild and free, never marrying, and sleeping around with various men, but she felt great loyalty to her family. She loved wearing beautiful dresses and staying out drinking all night, but always found extra money and food to help those on the streets. She is literally a character, one you won't quickly forget.
Rating: ****

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