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Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg, abridged by Jeremy Osborne

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Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg, abridged by Jeremy Osborne. Prod. Karen Rose. Perf. Samantha Spiro, Kerry Shale, Teresa Gallagher. BBC Radio 4, 15-26 June 2015. BBCiPlayer http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05xxc0d

Constructed as a series of diary entries plus interviews, "Saint Mazie" is based on the life of Mazie Gordon-Phillips, the self-styled "Queen of the Bowery" (1897-1964). Structurally speaking, it comprises a panoply of different voices: Mazie herself, as she confides in her diary from day to day, as well as writing her life-story; a childhood neighbor of Mazie's living on Grand Street; a great-granddaughter of the Venice Theatre that Mazie managed for so many years; the son of a sea-captain with whom Mazie had a long on-off love-affair; and a publisher who learned about Mazie from her acquaintance Fannie Hurst. This polyphonic aspect of the novel came across vividly in Karen Rose's radio production through the use of Kerry Shale and Teresa Gallagher, who supported Mazie herself (Samantha Spiro) as she told the story.

The Mazie who emerged in Spiro's performance was a truly admirable personality. She is sometimes bitter about her surroundings (the grimy streets of 1920s and 1930s New York are hardly the most salubrious environment), yet she manages to find redeeming features everywhere. Even the postcards sent to her by friends and admirers offer her some solace.

At the same time, author Attenberg does not shy away from depicting the suffering Mazie experiences in a New York trying to establish itself as the great city it became in the mid-twentieth century. Life is not easy trying to run a theater, when the streets are full of menace and disease, and natural disasters can often ruin the best-laid plans. The fact that Mazie manages to rise above such misfortunes, summing up her situation in a series of pithy one-liners, is testament to her resolve. She might not be a "Saint," in the strictest sense of the term, but her personality is truly saintly.