Sometimes characters come along who are so cool and quirky and fun, you wish you could be best friends with them. That's how I felt about Mazie Phillips Gordon, the main character (and actual historical figure) at the center of Jami Attenberg's new novel, Saint Mazie.
Mazie didn't have a perfect life—far from it, in many respects. Born at the very end of the 19th century, she had a difficult childhood and was eventually raised by her older sister, Rosie. She liked flirting with men but struggled to find one to settle down with. She happened into her job as a ticket seller in her brother-in-law's movie theater due to chance and necessity more than passion for the business. She spent most of her days in the tiny cage in front of the theater, watching New York City pass by, all around but just out of reach.
Still, Mazie had a passion for the streets of New York and the people populating them. She dedicated her life, in her unassuming and matter-of-fact way, to helping the homeless and destitute.
The structure of the novel is as creative and fun as Mazie herself: Attenberg tells Mazie's story in snippets from her diary, her unpublished autobiography, and interviews with people who knew her and their descendants. This mosaic approach gave me the feeling of seeing Mazie from all sides—she became more complete, more three-dimensional the longer I read. She wasn't always a good person; in fact, she struggled mightily with guilt over all the ways in which she fell short of goodness. But she was kind, compassionate, and damn funny. All the things you'd want in a best friend, basically.
Saint Mazie is the kind of book that will break your heart a little and put it back together again in a new and better way. It's the story of a woman who lived a big life—bigger than her narrow confines should have allowed.