PETE HAMILL- BROOKLYN STORIES-NOT ALL SWEETNESS

Pete Hamill’s The Christmas Kid is but one title in this collection of  36 short works of fiction.  Don’t look for sentimentality or the aroma from bread baking in a long forgotten local bakery. Hard times and hard lives abound.  This body of work was compiled from stories Hamill published, mostly in the New York Daily News. Many are set in post WWII Brooklyn neighborhoods near where Hamill has lived.

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With the exception of the title story, The Christmas Kid , these are sad tales about troubled lives in very tough neighborhoods. Street Gangs, lost loves, beleaguered drunks,  revenge , missed opportunities and no way to break the cycle.  Hamill often gives the reader a glint of optimism, then hope plummets off a cliff. Gripping, wonderful fiction for aficionados of New York lore . No one does it better than Hamill. Many of the stories could be the beginning of a novel unto themselves!

The Christmas Kid was first published in 2012 and released in paperback this year.

GRAND CENTRAL-THE BOOK-A DESTINATION UNTO ITSELF

It is fitting that my son who has just begun a daily commute to Grand Central gave me a copy of Sam Roberts  book Grand Central, How A Train Station Transformed America.

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During the better part of four decades , I commuted through Grand Central during periods of its greatest decay and glorious rebirth.  For me, and millions of others, the book is personal and the FOREWORD by Pete Hamill gives the work a New York City imprimatur that only Hamill could provide. Hamill: ” It was a week before Christmas in 1945.  Wait my mother said. I want to show you something. And she led me into the largest space I had ever seen. There were people moving across shiny marble floors in many directions, a gigantic clock, and a large board with numbers and the names of cities. A deep voice kept speaking from somewhere, the voice echoing off gleaming walls. We were in a place called Grand Central Station.”

The name is technically not Grand Central Station but rather Grand Central Terminal although few have ever called it anything but the former. The short-lived original named Grand Central Station, located nearby on 42nd Street,  was demolished  when the brilliant New York Central Railroad Chief Engineer William Wilgus convinced Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt’s son, William, that the future  of railroading was electric locomotives that would allow the Park Avenue rail lines to be placed underground leading to a new two tiered Grand Central Terminal.

Roberts brings the detail of the construction of the terminal into a readable and understandable epic, with a coupling of wonderful photography.  The magic and glamour of long distance train travel abounded in Grand Central long before it became a commuter hub. Track 34, today a common departure point for the Harlem Line, was where nightly they rolled out the celebrity red carpet for the 20th Century Limited to Chicago. The train with speeds up to 123 miles per hour made the trip in 20 hours, therefore the name.  The 20th Century made its inaugural trip on June 17, 1902 and its last on December 2, 1967. By that time the once glorious Grand Central along with long-distance train travel had fallen into disrepair and neglect and the terminal was  only a  shadow of the wonder in Pete Hamill’s youthful eyes back in 1945.

Robert’s history of  Grand Central is complete,  but the excitement surrounding  the terminal’s renewal,  in  many ways, lays the foundation of the renewal of New York City itself,  and the indomitable spirit of  New Yorker’s following the city-wide declines during the 1970s. This spirit, prevalent  today, harkens back to the introduction of a popular radio program in the 1940s on NBC titled Grand Central Station. See if you don’t agree that even though the 20th Century Limited and Empire Express are distant memories,  the preamble to each radio show remains real  as you walk through Grand Central today.

As a bullet seeks its target, shining rails in every part of our great country are aimed at Grand Central Station, heart of the nations greatest city. Drawn by the magnetic force of the fantastic metropolis, day and night great trains rush toward the Hudson River, sweep down its eastern bank for 140 miles, flash briefly by the long red row of tenement houses south of 125th Street, dive with a roar into the two-and-one-haf-mile tunnel which burrows beneath the glitter and swank of Park Avenue, and then…Grand Central Station! Crossroads of a million private lives! Gigantic stage on which are played a thousand dramas daily. 

Sam Roberts has given anyone who has ever paced the marble floors of Grand Central a great gift.  Beyond rails, renovation, railroad barons , conductors, porters and engineers, this is the story of how for over 100 years a building   has played such a huge role in defining New York City.  For those of us for whom Grand Central has been part of our lives we owe Sam Roberts a special debt of gratitude. Grand Central celebrates a victory for a city we love.

Sam Roberts has covered New York City for the Daily News and the New York Times for over 40 years. He has written seven books of non-fiction including The Changing Face of America in the 21st Century.

RULES OF CIVILITY…OR… RULES OF NEW YORK?

Amor Towles  debut novel Rules of Civility captures the rules of New York and places George Washington’s  110 Rules of Civility in the Appendix  where they rightfully belong! This read is a love relationship with New York, a city that authors its own rules!

What could be more compelling?  The earnest daughter of hard-working Russian immigrants born and raised on the Lower East Side.  A near-do-well wanna-be who will do anything to be accepted and regain lost riches. A sweet and adventurous mid-western transplant.  The swells of the Upper East Side trust fund gang, a hard charging publisher and of course “ladies who lunch .”  The players are all there and their personalities explode in a wonderful page-turning story set in the post depression era of the late 1930s.  New York is  bouncing back, regaining its lost energy, wealth, world status and rebuilding with money, music, bricks, mortar and unlimited opportunity for those willing to dare a ride on a rainbow.

The  book’s intimacy with New York is reminicent of Pete Hamill’s Downtown and Tabloid City.   There is a hint of F. Scott Fitzgerald and even a flash of Hemingway. ” By nine o-clock the restaurant would feel like the center of the universe.”  The 21 Club, the village jazz clubs before red velvet rope lines, the big bands, the after swing parties and the glorious and transparent lives  of trust fund swells of the Upper East Side and Oyster Bay.  Towles builds characters  who are looking out, looking in and some who don’t give a damn about all the action swirling around them. Falling in and out of love with intimacy left to the imigination.

Rules of Civility  is a New Yorker’s book but just like  the city, it is there for the  enjoyment of anyone willing to seize the moment.  This is a very, very good first novel which may well  have a movie running through its veins.

Simply said, enjoy!

TABLOID CITY, PETE HAMILL

Long ago I joined the chorus calling Pete Hamill a New York City Treasure. I enthusiastically expand the geography to a National Treasure!  Pete Hamill again  earns those accolades  with  his new novel Tabloid City!  If you have an ounce of New York City in your DNA you will  be captured by Hamill’s intimacy with his beloved turf.

Tabloid City  is set within 24-hours of life in New York. Terrorist plot, a daily afternoon newspaper in its last days, the legendary editor, typewriters, reporters who can not write without a cigarette, society ladies, an embittered disabled veteran, lost love, misplaced affection and a very old man who in his dying days does the right thing!  There is a line in Tabloid City that perfectly describes Hamill.  The copy refers to Sam Briscoe, editor of the The World.   ” You’re such a lucky man, Sam. You didn’t get the world secondhand. You didn’t take a course in it.  You Lived it! ” That is Pete Hamill!  The Wood! ( You will see).

There are three other Pete Hamill books which I relished with wonder. Downtown, My Manhattan. The title says it all!  A moving memoir of Hamill’s days and nights in New York from Times Square to the tip of Manhattan.  Street corners, movie theaters,  the pulse of anger, rebellion, hope, enterprise, greed  and celebration. The writing of a newspaperman. Not a wasted word!

One of Pete’s greatest treasures is PIECEWORK (1996) a compendium of his best writings dating back to 1970. Men and women, small pleasures, lost cities within the city, Gotti, Sinatra, Vietnam, Lebanon, Tyson, Madonna, cigarettes, typewriters, linotype , deadlines and headlines.

Hamill’s novel Snow in August, ( 1997)  is a fabulous read.  A story that could only unfold in New York where people who shouldn’t get along do so and where relationships blossom out of  fear and mis-understanding.  Snow in August is about Catholics and Jews, hope and transformation through the creation of characters in a plot that is entwined in the culture of Hamill’s  town. These are just four of Pete Hamill ” treasures.” Others include North River, Forever, A Drinking Life and Why Sinatra Matters.   Summer is coming. Go for them all!