Monday, December 31, 2007

North River by Pete Hamill

PLOT: Dr James Delaney treats everyone in his old neighborhood, even when they can't pay him or if they are dangerous. It's 1934, and most of his patients cannot afford his compassionate care, but Delaney's commitment to his community is firm. These are his people - the gangsters, the wife beaters, the prostitutes, and the alcoholics. He cares for all of them. The place - New York City - is part of his being, the deep roots of his identity. He loves his wife Molly, but she disappeared months before and Delaney doesn't know if she's even alive. His daughter, Grace, left home to follow revolutionary dreams, and in the bleak New York winter, Delaney is alone. He is a grey man in a grey world, burdened by regret, loneliness and sorrow. Two events are poised to change his life. First, Delaney is yanked out of a dream of ice and loss by the sound of his gate bell; his old friend Eddie Corso, now a gangster, needs his attention. Then, upon his return, Delaney finds that his daughter Grace has literally dumped her three-year-old son on his doorstep on her way to Europe to search for her husband. Delaney hires the Sicilian Rose (who has a past touched by violence) to take care of the child and cook, and in spite of being on Frankie Botts' hitlist for treating Corso and being watched by the FBI who want to find his daughter, colour and light slowly seep into his world.
QUOTE: "He would try as hard as he could to ease their pain. To bring them sleep. To give them another day, another week, another year. The reason was simple. Here all sins were forgiven. Even the sins of James Finbar Delaney."
COMMENT: The unequivocal star of North River is the city. Hamill puts the reader right into old NewYork - so much that you smell Italian sausages cooking and feel the dirty snow under your feet. He creates a neighborhood and its people with vibrant detail. Unlike Chevalier's Burning Bright, whose setting completely overshadows the plot and characters are just shadow puppets on a backdrop of old London, here the characters and the plot are well developed and three dimensional.
Even though there is danger in North River, the danger does not eclipse Delaney's love story or Hamill's song of New York. Recommended. A lovely read.


Maggie said...

Happy New Year and Happy Reading in 2008! I loved Hamill's Snow in August.

Vidalia said...

Thanks for the title Maggie - I've added Snow in August to my list - actually put a hold on it at the library!