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TABLE MONEY by Jimmy Breslin Kirkus Star



Pub Date: May 22nd, 1986
Publisher: Ticknor & Fields/Houghton Mifflin

Breslin's best. Congressional Medal of Honor winner Owney Morrison comes back to Queens from Vietnam with a scar from his neck to his waist and a classic case of advancing alcoholism. Owney's genes seem hand-tooled for alcoholism, or the Irish virus, nearly all the males in his family having succumbed, some quite early. Since Tammany days the Morrison men have been sandhogs and proud of it, and Owney soon finds himself 90 stories underground and blowing out rock for a new waterway. It's dangerous work, but he pulls down $600-$700 weekly--each job lasts about 15 years. He seldom goes directly home to his wife Dolores and their baby daughter. No, he stops off for a few shots and beers nightly with fellow sandhogs, and always cashes his paycheck at the bar. What's left he takes home and drops in a wad on the table: ""The trouble with him, she thought, was that he threw some of his money on the kitchen table and he spread the rest on the bar and hoped somewhere between kitchen Formica and saloon wood a few of the bills would take hold and grow like a bush."" And after three years of Owney's monotonously regular boozing, Dolores (Breslin's most rounded character ever) packs up, takes herself and baby off to her mother's, and starts premed courses at college, although she's reeling with Catholic guilt of the virulent Queens variety. Breslin's specialty is Queens speech and mores, and he has never shown himself more finely tuned to every blue-collar nuance of prejudice and despair. He's also always had a tremendous ear for the egoism and grandiosity of active drunks; now, however, he expands his arts to include the vocabulary of recovery and all forms of denial and resistance. Will Owney get sober in A.A. and win Dolores back from premed. . .to a life abandoned to perpetual Irish Catholic-Queens gloom? Breslin devises an ending that will satisfy nearly everyone, including those who wish a tunnel would collapse on the boorish hero. Some few will find the working out miraculously neat, but not gainsay Breslin some kind of polished trophy for one of the year's finest novels--and especially for his rendering of Queens A.A. meetings.