The Crazyladies of Pearl Street
As someone who has lived in the Albany, New York, area much of her life, I was unable to pass up this memoir cum novel set downtown on Pearl Street in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Six year old Jean-Luc LaPointe and his younger sister have been brought to poverty-stricken North Pearl Street by their mother. Their long-absent father has found them an apartment, and, for once, they will all live as a family. When Jean-Luc, Anne-Marie and their mother arrive, they find the kitchen decorated for a St. Patrick’s Day party, with green streamers and green soda, and a note from their father saying he’s just gone out to buy a green cake to make the celebration complete. He never returns.
Jean-Luc is nearing the end of his life as he narrates the story of his family’s tribulations, and occasional joys, through the eyes of his younger self. The Depression has had a tremendous impact on the families of North Pearl Street, and we live with the LaPointes as they scrimp and manage as best they can. One extravagance that enlivens their lives immeasurably is a battered Emerson radio they buy on installment from the local pawn shop. The novel is suffused by the popular culture of the time: the radio shows and characters that Jean-Luc incorporates into his “story games,” the movie stars and the songs of the period. This is the Albany that William Kennedy writes about, and the Democratic machine is alive and well in Trevanian’s tale. In fact, Kennedy and Trevanian grew up at the same time just a few blocks from each other, assuming that Trevanian is Rodney Whitaker, who lived at the same Pearl Street address as Jean-Luc. I encourage readers to enter Jean-Luc’s richly described world—you’ll be glad you did.