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Saint Mazie

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Meet Mazie Phillips: big-hearted and bawdy, she's the truth-telling proprietress of The Venice, the famed New York City movie theater. It's the Jazz Age, with romance and booze aplenty--even when Prohibition kicks in--and Mazie never turns down a night on the town. But her high spirits mask a childhood rooted in poverty, and her diary, always close at hand, holds her dearest secrets.

When the Great Depression hits, Mazie's life is on the brink of transformation. Addicts and bums roam the Bowery; homelessness is rampant. If Mazie won't help them, then who? When she opens the doors of The Venice to those in need, this ticket-taking, fun-time girl becomes the beating heart of the Lower East Side, and in defining one neighborhood helps define the city.

Then, more than ninety years after Mazie began her diary, it's discovered by a documentarian in search of a good story. Who was Mazie Phillips, really? A chorus of voices from the past and present fill in some of the mysterious blanks of her adventurous life.

Inspired by the life of a woman who was profiled in Joseph Mitchell's classic Up in the Old Hotel, Saint Mazie is infused with Jami Attenberg's signature wit, bravery, and heart. Mazie's rise to "sainthood"--and her irrepressible spirit--is unforgettable.

336 pages, Kindle Edition

First published June 1, 2015

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About the author

Jami Attenberg

13 books1,652 followers
I'm the author of Instant Love, The Kept Man, The Melting Season, The Middlesteins, and Saint Mazie, All Grown Up, and All This Could Be Yours, and a memoir, I Came All This Way To Meet You: Writing Myself Home. You can find me on twitter @jamiattenberg. I am the founder of the #1000wordsofsummer annual writing project and have a newsletter called Craft Talk. In 2024 the book version of #1000wordsofsummer will be published along with a new novel. I'm originally from the Chicago area, lived in New York City for sixteen years, and am now happily a New Orleans resident.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 987 reviews
Profile Image for karen.
3,988 reviews170k followers
August 15, 2018
If you can't see the beauty in the dirt then i feel sorry for you. And if you can't see why these streets are special, then just go home already.

jami attenberg has written historical fiction!!

and it's a brassy, sassy novel full of heart and humor but also some really lovely vulnerable moments. saint mazie is an unforgettable character who, ironically, is based on a real-life person who was nearly forgotten. although joseph mitchell wrote about this "queen of the bowery" in one of the pieces from Up in the Old Hotel, mazie's supposed intentions to write her own memoirs never came to pass, so attenberg had to create them herself, giving her a life and a voice through an imagined diary and a chorus of other characters; people whose lives she touched, who were fascinated by her, who loved or envied or hated her. people who knew her as a person and people who only knew her through her words. the mazie that emerges as a result is multifaceted, complicated, contradictory, and ultimately very human.

No one is so special in this life. We all lose sometimes. Life's plenty easy when you're winning. It's what you do when you're down. That's the real test.

I said: I used to think I was special.

He said: I know.

I wanted him to tell me I still was. I would have eaten my left pinky to hear it. Torn it off with my teeth. But you can't ask someone to tell you that.

mazie phillips-gordon was a woman who came to new york in the twenties when she was ten years old. a jewish girl crammed into the tenements on the lower east side where whole families lived in single rooms, mazie had it better than many, but she also understood how precarious circumstances could be and how quickly luck could turn. she and her sister jeanie were removed from the care of their abusive father and helpless mother by their older sister rosie and her husband louis and brought to new york where mazie fell in love with the pulse of the city and all the opportunities, including the opportunities for trouble. she grew from a rough-and-tumble little girl into a "good-time girl," smoking and drinking and disappointing the much more conservative rosie, who objected to mazie's tendency to come home at dawn, still drunk and rumpled from her encounters with the sailors she loved.

rosie is blind to the romance of the city that makes mazie feel alive. (cue musical accompaniment)

Rosie doesn't understand what it's like to love the streets. She doesn't see the shimmering cobblestones in the moonlight, she just wonders why the city won't put in another street lamp already. She doesn't see floozies trying to sweet-talk their customers, earning every nickel they get, working as hard as the rest of us. She just sees crime. She doesn't see the nuns and the Chinamen and the sailors and barkeeps - the whole world full of such different people. It's just crowds to her, blocking her way. She sees a taxi whisking by and she thinks, what's the hurry? And I think, where's the party?

That's what I want to tell her! There's a party.

mazie's party days come to a halt when she is put to work at the movie theater louis owns in the bowery, stuck in a ticket booth like a beautiful bird in a cage, where she can observe the goings-on of the city while remaining frustratingly apart. however, even a caged bird can make itself known, and mazie eventually becomes a force in the neighborhood, bearing witness to the struggles and suffering of its inhabitants through prohibition, the depression and war, and she begins to walk the streets at night, giving money and blankets to the "bums" with nowhere to go, calling ambulances and performing charitable deeds, lending a hand, a shoulder, an ear for no reason other than the fact that she can.

she has her own (mis)adventures along the way, and meets a colorful cast of characters who shine up offa the page in rollicking technicolor. it's historical fiction, but it's also not. this is more pure character study where the history provides the backdrop and the stage upon which the marvelous mazie struts, but she's the only thing we're looking at.

mazie is a dynamic force. she's irreverent and kind, stubborn and thoughtful. she's not a good girl in terms of the rigid gender politics of her times, but she is a good person - timelessly, inherently good. she's all heart and she's the very embodiment of new york - loud and tough and unexpectedly protective, taking life's blows and rising back up defiantly, refusing to be beaten.

We all fall apart no matter what, obviously, but some of what we consume leaves a more vivid trail behind than others.

and mazie is herself a vivid trail.

it's a real sparkle of a book, and despite being a period piece, it's also incredibly relevant. as mazie watches her city change over the years, her observations are not too far off from ones that could be made today, in the everchanging chameleon new york will always be.

big heart, big boobs, big fun.
big love for this book.

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews603 followers
September 17, 2015
Mazie Philips Gordon received a leather-bound journal for her 10th birthday.
I don't think Mazie - had 'any' idea that 30 years later-- (a wild street child at the time, who came from poverty, with a dad that was a rat and a mother a simp), would begin to comprehend
the gift her diary - and life would be.

I knew immediately this was a woman with a huge heart, with a sassy- rough exterior mask. There 'ain't- 'need-to-take-credit' for helping out bums in the streets in New York City, as far as Mazie is concern.
It's the rest of us folks who don't respect the dirty & poor who can go take a hike.

Jamie Attenberg deserves praise in creating this emotionally glorious spirited historical
fiction biography. She gives us a richly portrait of Mazie through her 'found diary'.
Mazie skipped years of writing in it. Jamie filled in the gaps from the friends who knew her,
which was interesting, too, because we got a flavor of how others saw her.
There are joys, laughs, and many sorrows. ( deaths, miscarriages, drug addictions, mental illness, and her own challenges with day-to-day living).

It was *Mazie*, known in the Bowrey as 'Saint Mazie', I loved most of all. She was an incredible human being. In my thinking..."she was quietly being one of God's partner's in life"!

Once more, I must say Thank You to Jamie Attenberg. I wasn't a fan of "The Middlesteins"'
maybe the only person I knew in my community of friends - Jewish - or non Jewish who 'didn't
care for that book ( with my own daughter having been anorexic - I just couldn't stand
the humor of any Association with weight issues) ... But as much as I didn't care for "The Middlesteins", ( 1 star review), I ....1000 times over loved "Saint Mazie". (5 star review)

Something inspiring about reading about a woman who is inspiring!

Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,782 reviews14.2k followers
June 22, 2015
Absolutely wonderful, though when I first started I wasn't sure if I was going to like this book. By the time I finished I felt as if I personally knew Maize, so much so, that if I met her on the street I would give her a big hug. The author did such a great job with this book and the characters within.

The story is told in journal entries by Maize, interviews by the writer of the book in the novel in the present day, interviewing those ancestors of the people who knew Maize and a few narrative entries.
Maize was quite the character, loved to drink and loved the streets of New York in the beginning of the 1900's. The depression in particular was amazingly described, the changes in New York, the east end and the bowery. All the bums Maize tried to help, families she provided for and her friendship with a sister of the Catholic faith, a faith Maize didn't believe in.

This story is based on a real person, Maize Gordon who did indeed do the things in this novel, but since very little information was available the author took what she could and wrote, this amazing story.
The real Maize was written up by Joseph Mitchell in a short story form the New Yorker, and is contained in his book of short stories.

Loved Maize's feistiness and her complicated personality. She truly was an angel of mercy for many.

ARC by publisher.
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,308 reviews2,191 followers
July 3, 2015

The way in which Mazie Gordon-Phillips' story is told by Attenberg fascinated me. Little is known about the life of the real Mazie , but Attenberg has done such a great job that I felt as if I was reading a non-fiction account and her imagined life of Mazie was for me thoroughly enjoyable.

She was "Queen of the Bowery" known for helping the homeless men on the streets of New York City in the 1920's and 1930's and her story is told in a unique narrative comprised of a fictionalized diary and autobiography as well interviews with people who knew her and relatives of people who knew her. What we find is a young girl whose childhood was far from a happy one and who grows into a gutsy woman who helps the homeless men during the depression . While I admired Mazie, I was sad at times for her , thinking that she gave up her happiness out of loyalty to her sister Rosie who raised her .

I love reading about pieces of time in NYC , and love that the place and the time are almost like characters. It was what was happening there and then - the Depression , the homeless, prohibition, that shaped who Mazie Phillips was .

Mazie reminds me in some ways of Axie Muldoon, the central character in another book I loved , My Notorious Life. While different times in NYC are portrayed and there are different groups of people who received their help both of these characters are gutsy, smart , headstrong and caring women . Axie was inspired by a real woman and I think if the woman she was based on and Mazie lived at the same time , I'd like to think they would have been friends.

From an interview in Jezabel.com 6/4/15 with Bobby Finger Attenberg says of Mazie,
" ...... I read the essay ( referring to the essay by Joseph Mitchell written in The New Yorker in 1940) and she felt instantly like both a feminist and an American hero to me. And I did a little research on her and found out that she’d planned on writing her memoirs but never did. And I immediately, desperately wanted to read those memoirs. So I decided to write them instead. I wanted to know about her, but also I wanted everyone else to know about her, too." Thanks to Attenberg for letting us know about Mazie. Definitely recommended!
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,670 reviews2,664 followers
August 13, 2015
Mazie Phillips-Gordon, a real person, barely gets a footnote in the history of New York City’s Bowery District during the Great Depression. Here we see all sides of this bold, brassy broad through Attenberg’s fragmented, epistolary narrative. The novel intersperses Mazie’s fictional diary entries (1907 to 1939) with excerpts from her unpublished autobiography and interviews with people who knew her.

For two decades Mazie is a ticket-taker at The Venice movie theater. Her devotion to the poor starts when she meets an alcoholic mother of starving children. Perhaps remembering her own childhood under an abusive father, she vows to do all she can for the down-and-out. This is historical fiction – but not as we’re accustomed to it. Attenberg shows how fragile and incomplete the documentary record can be.

A hard-nosed heroine with a heart of gold, Mazie will leave her mark on you.

See my full review at Nudge.
Profile Image for Theresa.
232 reviews142 followers
July 30, 2018
BEST. COVER. EVER. Just look at it, pretty as a picture.

This book was absolutely beautiful. The novel's protagonist, Mazie Phillips-Gordon is a little spitfire. She's tough, spunky, feisty, loving, sentimental, and most of all - generous. Through Mazie's diary entries, we see the world through her eyes during the Great Depression (New York City). Mazie helps the homeless (mostly men) anyway she can. She's a kind-hearted soul and we also learn about her abusive childhood and her unhappy, controlling sister, Rosie and her free-spirit younger sister, Jeannie. Mazie might have a small, quiet life but her dedication to helping those less fortunate makes her entire existence have meaning on a larger scale. "Saint Mazie" will tug at your heartstrings. I loved Mazie's tender and unexpected friendship with a nun, Sister Tee. The title of the book is somewhat sarcastic but overall, Mazie is a good person but with some bad "habits" here and there. She is human after all. Humanity is alive and well. Enjoy!

Favorite quote: "What kills me about these bums is that they die, they're gone, and it's like they never even existed on God's green earth. Someone knew them once. A mother, a father, a doctor, a pal, somebody knew their name. But now they're only known by each other, and then bit by bit, they're forgotten. Quicker than they'd like, probably. And everybody wants to be remembered, don't they? Everybody wants one little piece of them to be left behind. Well, I remember them. I remember them all. They were nobody to nearly everybody, but they were somebody to me. I knew all their names. Everyone's names. I knew them."
Profile Image for Lela.
375 reviews100 followers
December 3, 2015
I love Mazie! Her heart and spirit encompass the world! She follows her own star in everything and time unless it goes against her sister Rosie's wishes. Rosie took Mazie and her youngest sister, Jeannie, from their abusive home and raised them with husband, Louis. The book is her imagined life - taken from an imaginary diary and an imaginary unpublished biography. There are many characters who speak in the novel as they tell of the Mazie they knew. Very, very well-written in a fascinating style! Highly recommended,
Profile Image for Teresa.
Author 8 books817 followers
January 2, 2018
This author has been on my radar because she now lives in New Orleans, so when I visited a local independent bookstore for a Christmas gift for a friend, I came away with this. I ended up giving the friend a different book (long story) and then decided to read this during that busy and lazy week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

The story of the irrepressible (nonfictional) Mazie, rendered through her fictional journal entries along with the fictional voices of some who knew her or knew of her, was inspired by one of the essays in Joseph Mitchell’s Up in the Old Hotel. I was prepared to “complain” about one of these fictional voices, but the author cleverly undermined me with the character’s last passage.

My favorite parts were Mazie’s interactions with her beloved friend, the young nun Sister Theresa, whom Mazie affectionately and irreverently called Tee. My favorite quote and insight was about living with a beloved family member, day in and day out (as well as night in and night out), with a mental illness: I would give anything to make this stop. I’m used to this pain—it feels so familiar, it’s like my little pinky. But still I dare to dream of a life without it.
Profile Image for Barbara**catching up!.
1,395 reviews804 followers
August 15, 2015
3.5 stars: SAINT MAZIE is a novel inspired by the life of Mazie Gordon-Phillips who was “the Queen of the Bowery” in New York during the 1920’ s-1940. Maizie was known for walking alone in the streets of New York City helping the downtrodden. She was committed to the NYC community and gave all the money she had to the homeless she passed. She got them into flop houses, called ambulances, gave them soap and train tickets home.

Jami Attenberg used Maizie’s diary and then her own imagination to create the character of Maizie in her novel. Attenberg realistically brings Maizie to life. She’s a hard drinking, tough talking broad that took no grief from anyone. But she had a heart the size of Texas and helped anyone in her path.

I enjoy a very well written historical fiction novel that I learn about a period of time in our history. Attenberg astutely includes historical events that occurred in NYC during that time of Maizie’s reign. I highly recommend this novel for the historical fiction fans!
Profile Image for Emily.
Author 17 books611 followers
November 25, 2014
I loved spending time in Mazie's world -- the New York of the early 20th century comes alive in this book via several perspectives, but Mazie's is the most fun. I loved the idea of a self-possessed woman stomping around downtown doing whatever the hell she wanted at a time when most women's lives were so circumscribed by their roles as wives and mothers. The mood of the book is melancholy -- so much sadness was packed into Mazie's short life. But it's never overwhelmingly dark; Mazie's life is really sort of an object lesson in the importance of having a good time while you can because you never know what's going to happen next. What a privilege to accompany her on her adventures. I would recommend this book to anyone who has reread A Tree Grows In Brooklyn dozens of times and is on the verge of reading it again but really wants something a little more sophisticated morally, plus with sex.
Profile Image for Bettie.
9,989 reviews17 followers
June 27, 2015


Description: More than 90 years after Mazie Phillips - the proprietress of famed New York City movie theatre, the Venice - began her diary, it is discovered by a documentarian in search of a good story.

So who was Mazie Phillips? Diary extracts, interwoven with voices from past and present, paint a picture of her adventurous life - played out during the Jazz Age, when romance and booze were aplenty. But the Great Depression looms.

1/10: The Phillips girls hit New York. Mazie is unstoppable.

2/10: When Rosie loses another child, Maizie takes up employment in the ticket booth of the Venice Theatre

3/10: Nancie's children are starving and Maizie tries to help but there are serious consequencies.

4/10: Mazie's life is changed forever when she meets the Captain.

5/10: When disaster strikes again a new start beckons on Coney Island. Jeannie has other plans.

6/10: Maizie steps in when things get out of hand after the Wall St bombings.

7/10: Louie gives the Venice to Maizie but just where does his money come from?

8/10: Maizie has to take control when grief threatens to engulf Rosie. Then tragedy strikes again.

9/10: New York is hit by depression and Maizie has her work cut out.

10/10: As Rosie and Maizie finally settle, events take an unexpected and joyous turn.

Written by Jami Attenberg - author of a story collection, Instant Love, and three novels, The Kept Man, The Melting Season, and The Middlesteins, which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction. She has also contributed essays and criticism to The New York Times, Real Simple, Elle, The Washington Post, and many other publications. Jami lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Profile Image for TL .
1,879 reviews53 followers
June 6, 2018
*some minor edits*

“We all lose sometimes. Life’s plenty easy when you’re winning. It’s what you do when you’re down. That’s the real test.”

“There ain't nothing wrong with being alone, which is what I am, or what I have been. It's when it turns to loneliness, when you get to feeling blue about it all, that you're in trouble. There's the problem, loneliness.”

“These people all woke up this morning and reminded themselves to be human beings. Not everyone knows how to do that. No vermin, my people. Real human beings.”

“If you can't see the beauty in the dirt then I feel sorry for you. And if you can't see why these streets are special, then just go home already.”

Rosie doesn't understand what it's like to love the streets. She doesn't see the shimmering cobblestones in the moonlight, she just wonders why the city won't put in another street lamp already. She doesn't see floozies trying to sweet-talk their customers, earning every nickel they get, working as hard as the rest of us. She just sees crime. She doesn't see the nuns and the Chinamen and the sailors and barkeeps - the whole world full of such different people. It's just crowds to her, blocking her way. She sees a taxi whisking by and she thinks, what's the hurry? And I think, where's the party?

That's what I want to tell her! There's a party.

That was a journey.... kind of sad to say goodbye to these people, Mazie especially. I didn't know she existed till I saw karen's review

Listening to this and looking up stuff about her, she was a heck of a lady.. a strong, tough, compassionate gal who has had quite a life.
One of those people who are born to the times, I guess is how you can put it.

Wish I could have met her... I would have sat listening to her stories for as long as she wanted to tell me. God bless ya Mazie.

The book is told in format if Mazie's diary sprinkled with excerpts fron her unpublished autobiography and people who knew her or were helping with background for the novel.

A unique way (for me) to tell a story... always interesting, even when the story had its slow spots.

The Narrator: Tavia Gilbert. .. just wow. She did a fantastic job of bringing these people to life and giving them each distinctive voices.. I actually forgot it was only one person quite a few times.

This novel had me smiling, laughing, and crying... I was thinking of it often when I couldn't listen to it:)

Would highly recommend, happy reading!
(Will edit any mistakes when I get to my laptop)
Profile Image for Amy.
240 reviews6 followers
June 12, 2015
I really liked the idea of this book, and it has some good elements that do not reach full effectiveness because the overall structure just doesn't work.

Presented as an assemblage of diary entries, autobiography excerpts, and interviews with people who know (or know of) the title character, this is the fairly obviously-told story of an unconventional woman (the opening chapter makes sure the reader is told this over and over and over again) who is very interested in the streets. And the people who live on the streets. The streets are her business.

If I never read the phrase "the streets" again, it will be too soon.

Mazie's story was fairly interesting, and her diary entries make up the majority of the book. Most of the book really deals with Mazie's life and family before the 1930s, and this strand is absorbing. Really, the whole book is very readable.

But the emphasis of certain things was sometimes weird to the point that it felt like I was reading the novel equivalent of a movie that was meant to be one thing and then became something else entirely in the editing bay. The book is presented, even within the text itself, as being about this great Depression heroine but what little anyone, including Mazie herself, has to say about this is repetitive and unilluminating. It's the weakest part of the book. Even the author acknowledgements aren't safe...she discusses learning a lot about a particular housing development that only shows up for like 10 pages.

The concept of the documentarian, or whoever it is that is supposedly putting together the diary entries and interviews, is really interesting but barely noticeable until suddenly it is supposed to be very noticeable, and again, the timing and emphasis is off. It doesn't work.

Wanted to love this book. Didn't. Still want to read the New Yorker piece that inspired it.
Profile Image for Lormac.
526 reviews63 followers
November 12, 2015
This book held a lot of promise, and has, at its core, an absolutely great true story. There was a real Mazie Phillips who did work as a ticket seller at a movie theater on the Lower East Side in the heart of the Bowery from the 1920s to 1940, and who, during the Depression and afterwards, gave handouts to the homeless men populating the area. She was a "Personality" with a capital "P" and seemed to take pride in being an eccentric - a "tough broad" - who boozed and flirted and eschewed the traditional roles for women of that time.

Jami Attenberg has a love of real NYC stories, and this one is a gem. Joseph Mitchell wrote about Mazie in several New Yorker profiles in the 30s and 40s, and Attenberg's book attempts to flesh out the story of Mazie while staying true to what can be gleaned about her background and life, and while using the patois of the turn of century New York.

But the story gets lost in itself - there are abusive fathers, virtuous girls turned strippers, adulterous war heroes, spunky nuns, anarchist bombers, closeted homosexuals, racetrack bookies; plus characters suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder, gonorrhea; heroin addiction, tuberculosis, alcoholism and brain damage; plus there are a number of miscarriages, deaths and possibly an abortion. It's amazing that the fictional Mazie ever manages to sell a ticket amid the swirl of disasters surrounding her.

And Attenberg tells this story through a combination of excerpts from Mazie's fictional diary, quotes from Mazie's fictional unpublished autobiography, and interviews with fictional characters Attenberg has cooked up to frame Mazie's life and fill in gaps in the diaries. If Attenberg had played that last part straight, it would have been better, but she cannot resist teasing the reader by not really ever explaining who the interviewer is, and then shoehorning in a romantic framework for the interviewer. The reader really does not need to know about the interviewer; and trying to layer this story over Mazie's much more interesting and compelling story seems awkward.

Finally, the pacing of the narrative of Mazie's life is uneven. The story seems packed into Mazie's life from 9 to 36 (late 1890s to 1939), and then Attenberg simply drops her like a hot potato. The real Mazie died in 1964 - 25 years after the last diary entry Attenberg gives the reader. But why? Attenberg is making up enough of the elements of the book, so why can't she make up those last years? It is understandable that the story would start with Mazie getting a diary as a gift when she was 9, but why does it end in 1939 - even before the movie theater that the real Mazie worked in stopped operating. Attenberg does throw in a couple of sentences about where Mazie is buried, but practically nothing else. I wanted to know what happened in those final years - how Mazie adjusted to life outside her ticket "cage" and what she thought of WWII and the 50s and early 60s in NYC. If Attenberg could fabricate stories of Mazie running across the rooftops as a child on the Lower East Side, why couldn't she have given us the spectacle of Mazie meeting the beatniks in Greenwich Village in the late 1950s? I would have taken that over some of the other filler Attenberg stuffs into those years in the 1920s.

Mazie is inspiring. I will never forget her, and I will try to take some of her life philosophy to heart. Really we have Jami Attenberg (and Joe Mitchell) to thank for giving her a life after her life, and I wished Goodreads allowed 2.5 stars, but the book did not work for me overall, so there you have it.

PS If you ever have a half hour free, look up "Mr. Hunter's Grave" by Joseph Mitchell - an exquisite short story.
Profile Image for Lorna.
719 reviews419 followers
August 24, 2021
The author, Jami Attenberg, writes in her acknowledgements that her book, Saint Mazie was inspired by the life of Mazie Philips-Gordon as featured in the essay collection by Joseph Mitchell's Up in the Old Hotel. There was also an article published in The New Yorker by Joseph Mitchell in their December 21, 1940 issue featuring Mazie as a celebrity in the Bowery.

This book begins each chapter with an excerpt from the unathorzied autobiography of Mazie Phillips-Gordon as an epigraph and followed by diary entries by Mazie beginning when she was ten years old, receiving a diary for her birthday gift on November 1, 1907. With just the sweep of history in the Lower East Side of New York City through World Wars I and II, the stock market crash of 1929, Prohibition and all of the tumultuous events of that time period are the background of the story of Mazie as well as her personal struggles and upheaval in one's life. The tale is additionally told by family, friends, neighbors, acquaintances and other observers which adds to the interest of many different perspectives on the story.

"People ask me why I spend so much time on the streets. I tell them this is where I grew up. These streets are dirty, but they're hope, and they're beautiful to me. The bums know about the beauty of it. The bums love it like it's their own skin. The ruddy dust from the streets, the mud in the parks where they sleep, sunk deep in the lines in their foreheads, jammed up under their fingernails The sun and the dirt mixed up with their sweat and the booze. All the dirt. It's the earth. If you can't see the beauty in the dirt then I feel sorry for you. And if you can't see why these streets are special, then just go home already."
-- Excerpt from the unpublished autobiography of Mazie Phillips-Gordon

"Somebody loved them once, and that's all you need to know."
-- Excerpt from the unpublished autobiography of Mazie Phillips-Gordon
Profile Image for Kwoomac.
836 reviews37 followers
September 18, 2015
This is a love letter to New York City. Mazie isn't really all that saintly but she does take us all over NYC from the early 1900's through the 1930's, a rich time in this country's history. She starts out as a pretty self-absorbed young girl, determined to do whatever feels good, everyone else be damned if they don't like it. As time moves on, her world view changes. Broken men return from the war. Prohibition turns hard working people into criminals. The stock market crashes and more people are out on the streets.

Mazie works in her brother-in-law's movie theatre, out front in the ticket booth. First she feels trapped, later she realizes she can watch everything going on around her. She mixes with saints and sinners. She does what she can to make her fellow New Yorkers' lives a little more tolerable. It's not much; loose change, a cigarette or too, a swig of booze from her ever present flask. She takes care of her sisters, her employees, and her lovers. She's no softy though, she's a tough broad, who feels like she owns the streets of NYC.

The story is told in excerpts from Mazie's diary and also in interviews with people who knew her or knew of her. Ithere were too many voices for my liking.
Profile Image for Diane Barnes.
1,299 reviews450 followers
June 27, 2015
Really wonderful book about Mazie Phillips Gordon, a real life Queen of the Bowery. Joseph Mitchell wrote a profile of her for the New Yorker, but other than a few details available in public records, not much is known about a woman who saw a need and tried to fill it. Jami Attenberg has fleshed out her story with an unusual narrative using a fictional diary, and fictional interviews with people who knew her. The result brings to life a story of a big-hearted woman who had known a lot of pain in her life, but tried to be a good person, even though the smoking, drinking and carousing she did caused others to look down on her. This book also brings to life New York City between the wars. She made me love Mazie, who was "quite a broad" in the best sense of the word.

Now to track down a copy of Joseph Mitchell's "Up in the Old Hotel", so I can read the essay that caused the author to write an entire book about her. What a woman that Mazie was!
Profile Image for Sue.
177 reviews19 followers
June 25, 2015
Saint Mazie is the fictionalized biography of Mazie (Gordon) Phillips, a woman who lived and worked in depression-era Manhattan. By day, Mazie ran a movie theater in the Bowery, and by night, she walked the downtown streets of the city, caring for homeless men by giving them money, calling ambulances for them when they were sick or injured, and listening to their stories. The book consists of diary excerpts and recollections of people who knew her or were connected to her in some way. These memories and documents are pieced together by an off-the-page documentarian, who never speaks, but is spoken to by the people she interviews for her 'project.'

Attenberg draws an interesting portrait of the rise and fall of New York City at a unique moment in its history, from the perspective of the poor and marginalized. Attenberg's Mazie is a compelling character, and in her fictional portrayal of the real woman, she touches on themes of feminism, faith, family, and mental illness.

But, because of the premise and format of the book, there are lot of blank spots. We can't, and as one character in the book says, we shouldn't, know everything about a person. Still, I wanted to know more, and I wanted the book to go deeper.

An enjoyable, interesting read, but not a book I feel compelled to walk around hugging - 3.5 stars.
Profile Image for Marleen.
1,758 reviews94 followers
December 7, 2015
A most extraordinary book about an ordinary woman who may have stood out because she helped the homeless men on the street of NYC after the Wall Street crash of 1929 and after. Of course there’s much more to the story. It starts when Mazie, this ordinary girl moves to New York City at the age of 10, leaving behind an abusive father and a tormented & weak mother.
On the day of the move to NYC, her older sister Rosie gives Mazie a diary to write in. From there we pick up her story. Mazie's family consists of her older sister Rosie, who’s married to Louie, a good man, but perhaps a shady business man - we'll never know. And younger sister Jeannie, whose only dream is to dance.
Mazie’s very attracted to street life growing up, and this continues when she’s older, she loves a drink and loves bars and enjoys flirting. Louie owns some businesses in town; among them the Venice Movie theatre. That’s where Mazie has worked most of her adult life; selling the tickets in her “cage” as she calls it. Later she will own the theatre. On the surface that seems all very common, but when Mazie writes in her diary, she lays out her soul; there’s so much humanity in her words (I was very touched by it all). Mazie ultimately gives up her own happiness to take care of her older sister Rosie, who becomes mentally fragile after Louie dies.
This book is partially written from Mazie’s perspective when we hear her journal entries, but also a few other people who have known her, or have read her diary, years later, contribute to this story. Those alternating narratives, views and thoughts balance the story out.
What had the most impact on me was a) Mazie’s every-day-ness and b) the backdrop of New York city between 1920-1939. I could so perfectly see the streets and the buildings. Smell the atmosphere. It was so well rendered.
The fact that I listened to this in Audio was a plus. The narrator, Tavia Gilbert is simply AMAZING! What a great job she did with all the characters. Loved it!
Profile Image for Judy.
1,709 reviews295 followers
July 15, 2016
Mazie Phillips is the daughter of a bad father and his oppressed wife. At some point in their childhood, the eldest sister Rosie left home and got established in New York City. A year later Rosie came and got the two younger sisters, Mazie and Jeanie. Rosie by then had a husband named Louis and the two of them proceed to raise the younger sisters.

The form of the novel is a bit wonky. Mazie's story is told from several intermingled viewpoints including her diary, people who knew her over the years, and someone who is trying to get Mazie to write her life story. Despite the patchy way in which this form reveals that life, it does all come together by the end.

The "family" of Louis, Rosie, Mazie and Jeanie is not quite like the families one usually reads about in novels. That is why I ended up liking the book so much. No one is privileged or even normal. I found a few similarities to a couple of Amy Bloom's novels: Away and Lucky Us. In fact, I completely love Amy Bloom and am glad to have found an author like her.

Rosie does her best trying to raise her sisters, but she has her own troubles and eventually the girls grow up and get away from her. They are all unlucky in love and relationships and friendships but Mazie is the one who ends up caring for the lot of them. In addition she takes on many of the bums in the neighborhood, especially during the Depression and helps them in a warmhearted and non-judgemental fashion.

The book is a glittering yet raunchy piece of historical fiction that brings to life the lesser streets of New York City from 1907 to 1939: the Jazz Age, the Suffrage movement, prohibition, and the Depression. Inspired by the essay "Mazie" in Joseph Mitchell's Up In the Old Hotel, Ms Attenberg carries it off with humor, pathos and a ton of heart. Mazie, who was Jewish but whose best friend was a nun, who drank and smoked and had many lovers, came by her sainthood in the usual way: through love, suffering, pity, and hardship.

The story closes with her last diary entry and by then you have gotten to know a character you will be unlikely to forget.
Profile Image for Carol.
346 reviews16 followers
March 2, 2015
Based on a Joseph Mitchell profile from the New Yorker, this story reminds you that your story is not always yours to tell, or even decide if it sees daylight. Mazie ran a theater but found the streets more interesting than the screen. In fact, it seemed she loved her NYC more than she did any of her men. This love translated into concrete compassion during the Depression, which is where you might think the "Saint" part comes from. But saints are beloved, are our intercessors, because they lead complex lives. You do not become a saint because you are perfect, but because you are touched by greatness. I hope the real Mazie finally realized this.
Profile Image for Greg Zimmerman.
829 reviews172 followers
June 30, 2015
(First appeared at http://www.thenewdorkreviewofbooks.co...)

Jami Attenberg's fantastic new novel Saint Mazie is about a hard-partying maneater named Mazie Phillips-Gordon. Mazie's a real person — a subject of a New Yorker profile in 1940 about how she opened the Manhattan theater she owned to down-on-their-luck dudes during the Great Depression. But Attenberg's novel uses a fictitious diary, as well as "interviews" with some people whose relatives knew Mazie, or who knew Mazie themselves, to construct a portrait of this larger-than-life woman.

The result is just an exuberant, fun-to-read story. Mazie moves from Boston to the lower East Side of Manhattan as a young girl to escape her abusive father. She and her younger sister Jeanie live with their older sister Rosie and Rosie's husband, Louis. Mazie, in her late teenage years, takes quickly to the Manhattan life, staying out all night, flirting with fellas, and generally living for the moment. But Mazie harbors a soft spot for helping people — the paradox of her character.

Rosie and Louis — her parent figures — decide they've had a enough with her wild ways, and plead with her to take over as the ticket-taker for the theater Louis owns. She can't say no to Louis, who she loves for saving her and for taking care of her and sisters. So she agrees — spending her days in the "cage" of the ticket booth, and watching New York City slide by without her. She does manage to step out once in awhile, including with a dashing and World War I hero named the Captain, who becomes her life-long love interest, as he flits in and out of her life.

So the central question of the novel, which really rises to the surface as the Great Depression hits and Mazie spends more and more time helping the homeless: What does it mean to be a good person? Mazie assumes she's bad — she has sex with married men, she flirts, she drinks and smokes, and stays out all night. But her heart's in the right place, isn't it? Her younger sister, by contrast, is a sweetheart who never gave anyone any trouble. Bu she suddenly takes off across the country to make it as a dancer, jilting the man who loves her. She gets in trouble in Chicago and has to return to New York somewhat disgraced. Is Jeanie a good person? And then Louis — Louis may or may not be a criminal. Mazie constantly sees him meeting with shady figures, and he always seems to have money to burn. But he's a big 'ole sweetheart of a man, who loves the sisters, and treats Mazie with nothing but compassion and respect. Is Louis good?

I really loved this novel. It's a great character study and a wonderful depiction of early 20th century New York City. And there aren't too many more fun-to-read writers out there than Attenberg (I loved The Middlesteins, as well.) She's funny, witty, smart-as-hell, and just generally a writer who really seems to enjoy writing every sentence as much as you enjoy reading them. This is highly recommended. Very highly.
Profile Image for JenniferD.
1,006 reviews359 followers
July 1, 2015
mazie is delightful, flawed and interesting. i really enjoyed this new novel from attenberg. the telling of the story felt a bit fractured, given the multiple perspectives and the jumps between past and present. while this could be representative of mazie's life it did leave me slightly detached as a reader - i would get sucked right into a diary entry from mazie, only to have the moment broken by a new voice. this is a very minor quibble, though.
Profile Image for Laila.
1,315 reviews47 followers
January 10, 2018
“There ain’t nothing wrong with being alone, which is what I am, or what I have been. It’s when it turns to loneliness, when you get to feeling blue about it all, that you’re in trouble. There’s the problem, loneliness. And now I’m never really alone anymore, day or night. Even if I walk the streets by myself, I’m surrounded by people. It’s like being in the cage, only inside out.”

This was a beautiful, sad book. Jami Attenberg really knows how to write a bittersweet, page-turning story.
Profile Image for Mayda.
3,121 reviews57 followers
January 23, 2020
It’s the Jazz Age, but for every person who spends the night reveling at a speakeasy, many more spend their waking hours working but barely surviving. Prohibition and the Great Depression bring additional problems and heartache. Through it all, the brave and hardy struggle on, but in New York, in the Bowery, one woman will eventually emerge as the soul of city. Mazie Phillips, rescued by her older sister from a weary and brow-beaten mother and a cruel and despicable father, will herself become a rescuer for the homeless men who roam the streets. In this work of historical fiction, Mazie seems like an unlikely savior. She loves to party, drinks to excess, looks for love in all the wrong places, and has no qualms about speaking her mind. But she is generous to a fault, looks after her own, and, and in time, comes to realize that all humanity is her own. A fascinating read about a remarkable woman.
Profile Image for Michelle.
Author 12 books1,387 followers
December 11, 2016
Loved this novel set in the 20s and 30s and featuring a big-hearted and captivating protagonist (based on a real person!) Terrific read.
Profile Image for Stephanie Anze.
657 reviews114 followers
April 12, 2017
At the age of ten, Mazie Philips receives a leather bound diary as a birthday gift. From that day forward, she begins to chronicle her life in New York city. As she grows older (and bolder), Mazie begins to work as the ticket seller for the Venice Theater, owned by her brother-in-law Louis. Its in this manner that she is introduced to the disenfranchised and poor. Soon Mazie takes action and marks a difference for those in need.

Based on the real-life heroine Mazie Philips Gordon, this is a fictionalized account of her life. Told through diary entries and interviews, Attenberg attempts to fill in the blanks for Mazie´s life. Dubbed "The Queen of the Bowery", Mazie was far from being conventional. Tough, loud and rough around the edges, Mazie paid little mind to what others thought of her. She looked after the homeless and cared for them during the Depression Era. While Mazie is amazing, I did not think the novel was. It felt disjointed and choppy. The pace was uneven and often all the other characters were distractions rather than assets. The setting is well developed and one of the stronger points of the book. New York was just as brazen and feisty as Mazie. The main aspect of the book does not come into play almost til the very end. This novel was just not my cup of tea but I do have to thank Attenberg for introducing me to an inspiring woman. An interesting read overall.

Profile Image for Anita.
1,060 reviews
December 19, 2021
A powerful piece of historical fiction that really does its job in making me very curious about the real life "Queen of the Bowery" amd the characters and family surrounding her.

Funnily enough this book popped up on one of those random articles that matches a book to you based on your zodiac, and finding myself at a bit of a loss for reading inspiration I decided to go ahead and download the audiobook. It really took off with Mazie's personality - grit and spunk galore. She's brazen and full of spirit, and just hungry to live life in the great city of New York. Her character is bright to life and then her story just carried me along as she met new people, caring for as many as she could along the way.
Profile Image for Allie.
1,405 reviews38 followers
August 18, 2015
This rating/review is based on an ARC I grabbed at work. Thanks to the publisher/B&T for sending it. If anyone else wants to read the ARC copy, I'd be happy to pass it on!

The novel is framed as the diary of Mazie Phillip, a real life jazz age New York theater proprietress, interspersed with documentary-like interviews with people who knew her/knew of her. While I was in the tail end of this book, I definitely looked up Mazie online (like her NYT obituary, which is a legit obit not just a death notice) and in Ancestry (I found her, Rosie, & Louis in the NY state 1915 census and her grave). Eventually I'll get out the microfilm and look at the 1940 New Yorker profile of her. I can't even imagine what kind of a force of nature she was in person, but I love how Attenberg imagines her. This didn't hit me where I live like The Middlesteins did (boy howdy I love that book), but the prose is still so lovely.

I definitely wish I hadn't set it down for like 5 months in between starting and finishing the book. While most of the text is Mazie's diary, there are other supplemental characters that were complete mysteries for me.

This also satisfies task 23 of my Book Riot Read Harder challenge! A book published this year!
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