"North River" by Pete Hamill;
Little, Brown and Co.; $25.99.
The streets of old New York are getting mighty crowded with fictional characters. Contemporary authors seem more apt than ever to dip into the city’s rich past to tell their tales.
Tabloid legend Pete Hamill one-upped them all with his last book, "Forever," about a man who is made immortal from the Revolutionary era through Sept. 11, 2001, as long as he never leaves Manhattan.
This time, Hamill settles on one year, 1934, and one mortal protagonist, Dr. James Delaney.
Delaney is an aging World War I vet who devotes himself to treating his often poor neighbors in the West Village. Tough on the outside, he is haunted by the loss of his wife, Molly, last seen walking toward the nearby North River (aka the Hudson). He does not know if she is alive or dead.
Two events on New Year’s Day set the plot in motion: Delaney helps patch up an old war buddy-turned gangster from a gunshot wound and his 3-year-old grandson Carlito is left on his doorstep by his daughter, who skipped off to Spain in search of her wayward communist husband. Needing a live-in nanny to help care for the boy, Delaney hires Rose, a tough-cookie Sicilian with her own troubled past.
Hamill tells a good yarn and has a knack for drawing empathetic portraits of rogues and rule benders.
"Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life" by Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver; HarperCollins.
Do we curse the rain because it keeps us from washing the car on our day off? Or, in the midst of a drought, do we consider the downpour a blessing for the local farmer who grows food for our table?
It’s one of many questions at the heart of Barbara Kingsolver’s new book, which is both charming memoir and persuasive journalism — the latest in a parade of best-sellers to explore where food comes from and the wisdom of fruits and vegetables traveling farther than the average vacationing family.
If more food were grown "locally" in its natural season, Kingsolver argues, we would better appreciate the rain and reward the farmer. But if we depend on industrialized agriculture — which trucks mass-produced tomatoes and asparagus cross-country any time of the year — there’s little connection to the local farmer or the summer tomato, and future generations will bear environmental costs, she continues.
Kingsolver is at her best when she lets the food and her family’s experiences do the talking, such as her young daughter Lily’s foray into chicken farming. "One of the earliest lessons in poultry husbandry we had to teach her was, ‘Why we don’t kiss chickens on the mouth."’