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The Crazyladies of Pearl Street    by Trevanian order for
Crazyladies of Pearl Street
by Trevanian
Order:  USA  Can
Crown, 2005 (2005)
Hardcover, Audio, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Pat Elliott

The author, Trevanian (a pseudonym), who kept his identity secret during thirty years of writing in various genres, now comes out with an autobiographical novel set in Albany, New York during the Great Depression. At last readers, familiar with The Eiger Sanction (adapted into a feature film by Clint Eastwood), The Loo Sanction, Shibumi, The Main, The Summer of Katya, and Incident at Twenty Mile get a peek into the life and character of the mysterious Trevanian.

The story is told by Jean-Luc, a six-year-old who takes on the responsibility of his mother and younger sister when the fragile, young family find themselves on Pearl Street with no money, abandoned by their charming con man husband and father. Jean-Luc becomes the backbone of the family, taking care of his mother, who is frequently ill, and his sister. He cleans the run-down apartment where they live, stokes the ancient furnace, delivers papers and shines shoes. His mother tries in every way possible to give her children a normal life with the $6.02 dole from the ward heeler. She is strict about nutrition and education and instills in her children the ability to dream. The book recalls poignant moments in the life of a child who had to grow up too fast - memories of a little family who had fun together even in rough times; and of a time when a nickel meant the difference between eating potato soup made from dried potato flakes and having a bit of bread and peanut butter to go with the glutinous mess. This is also about a boy, waiting for a father who never returns.

The people Jean-Luc meets on Pearl Street shape his life, his ideals and his sense of adventure. Descriptions of this Irish slum could only have been written by one who lived there. This absorbing story shows in stark detail the poverty and unemployment that is Pearl Street. We live with the Meehans, an intermixed incestuous family, whose matriarch is touched by a simple hello. There is Mr. Kane who is too generous with credit. His wife Mrs. Kane is a cosmetologist, clairvoyant and gossip. We meet shy Mrs. McGiviney and her war hero husband who doesn't speak. And one of the Crazyladies is Jean-Luc's mother, who sometimes embarrasses him but always loves him. I recommend Crazyladies to anyone interested in history, in the people of Great Depression, or in the mysterious author, Trevanian. It is a character study in survivors.

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