A coming-of-ager bursting at the seams with rich stories.
Though the one-named Trevanian is known for thrillers and Westerns (Incident at Twenty-Mile, 1998; stories: Hot Night in the City, 2000, etc.), they’re stories depending on considerable research. This outing, then, might seem out of keeping—set almost entirely on one Irish slum street in Albany during the 1930s and ’40s—but in fact it’s also based on a wealth of knowledge, this time the author’s own life. It starts in 1936, when the six-year-old narrator, Jean-Luc LaPointe, his three-year-old sister, Anne-Marie, and their mother move into a tenement apartment, waiting for their father, who abandoned them years ago but recently sent word that he had rented a place for them and was waiting. Naturally, the bum never shows, and the LaPointes spend the next ten years on Pearl Street, making ends meet on their welfare allowance of $7.27 a week. Jean-Luc is, of course, a bright lad, always leagues ahead of his classmates, a boy who likes only one thing better than playing complicated imaginary games, and that’s stealing away to a favorite library nook and reading. The street itself is richly imagined, with its resident crazies, the vast and boisterously Irish Meehan clan and dreamy socialist Jewish shopkeeper Mr. Kane. Years flip past with little change except the tremors of far-off conflict, but they’re of little matter, as Trevanian is mainly interested in local sketches, with lengthy digressions on the particulars of Jean-Luc’s paper route or the way he steals into movies for free, all lushly portrayed. Eventually, Jean-Luc’s mother meets another man—a decent one she can’t help criticizing for being such a mark, since she’s still in love with her undependable first husband—yet it’s an event that signals the end of the family’s time on Pearl Street.
Recollections of the good bad old times can verge into sepia-tinted nostalgia, but the sheer size and splendor of Trevanian’s canvas wins out in the end.