InStyle reporter and Kirkus reviewer Ermelino (The Black Madonna, 2001) spins an old-fashioned tale about family solidarity and a cheating man who gets his just deserts. Mary, Helen, and Gracie Mallone were raised by grandmother Anona on the Irish West Side of New York in the 1920s and ’30s. Anona’s husband changed his name from Malloni to get work on the Irish-controlled piers before succumbing to the flu epidemic of 1918 that also killed the sisters’ father, mother, and baby brother. The siblings grow up independent and feisty, free from the constraints imposed on girls downtown in Little Italy. Helen and Mary quickly quit school and run with a gang of kids, often dressing in boys’ clothes, but when Helen is arrested, 13-year-old Mary dolls herself up and solicits the help of much-older Nick Andersen, a lieutenant of mobster Owney Madden. Nick later marries Mary; Helen, after quickly losing a drunken husband, settles into life as a good-time gal who enjoys the companionship of men and an occasional woman from the Village’s shadier bars. But quieter youngest sister Gracie falls in love and marries Frankie Merelli, a good-looking, smooth-talking ne’er-do-well who spends his evenings drinking, gambling, and playing around with cigarette girls; meanwhile, his wife irons his shirts and raises their son Charlie. Anona keens over it all, lighting endless candles to her statue of St. Rita and belting down anisette as the narrative moves between Frankie’s death in 1953 and the sisters’ early years.
An appealing, colorful picture of life in ethnic, blue-collar New York during the mid-20th century.