In the last year, I started following Tumblr’s reblogbookclub, their official book club. Unfortunately, I could not join in because of my semester workload. Once school let out, though, I was able to catch up with their current selection: Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg. A documentary/biopic in book form about a woman living in New York in the early 1900s.
There is mystery upon mystery throughout the 300-some odd pages. First, the narrator; a journalist of some sort named Nadine. What is her obsession with Mazie Phillips’ diary? It’s never revealed and I can’t help but wonder why? Journalistic value? Personal connection? though not very likely. Like the interviewee, Elio, I too, am drawn to the Great Depression and that time period in general. Could it simply be some historical fascination she has? and the quest feeds her obsessive nature at the same time. There’s also the undeniable, but never explained, connection between her and the interviewee who found the diary. Hmmm…
Mazie herself is also a mystery that is not fully solved by the end. It is revealed bit by bit that she and her two sisters, Rosie and Janie, come from a broken home. She doesn’t let that affect her though, which I applaud. She is another well-written female protagonist who is honest, fiery, and doesn’t take bullshit from anyone. Her characterization and depth are so realistic that I wasn’t entirely disappointed at the end. After all, we can never know someone else completely, as much as we would like to. Rosie comes in second, her character taking more shape after tragedy befalls her (no spoilers! sorry, not sorry). It came in due time. I was starting to think she was flat, just a subservient housewife of the times. Attenberg doesn’t delve too much into Janie, who is just painted as the rebellious one who only wants to follow her passions.
Can’t say that I blame Attenberg, there were just too many characters to keep track of. Not just the ones the sisters encounter, however briefly, but the interviewees as well. Just when I got lost in a diary entry, feeling like I was walking the streets of the Lower East Side with her, I’m thrust out of it with an entry from George or Ben or Lydia. It created a choppy feel while reading, but forgiven by Attenberg’s sharp writing that easily keeps interest. Once I started reading, I couldn’t stop. Saint Mazie, I think, is about the biggest mystery everyone is destined to leave unsolved: How well do we really know those close to us? It’s a fascination we all have as humans; feeling like we need to know everything about everyone. Kinda frustrating, isn’t it? Well done, Attenberg.
4 ½ of 5 stars