Outspoken New York newspaper columnist and author Breslin, famed for his sharp eye and wit, explores his own brain in this memoir of his life and his experience with brain surgery.
The book opens the night before his aneurysm surgery in 1994 and closes with him leaving the hospital, mind intact. In between is a free-association of flashbacks - a rollicking ride through his life, his city and his work - punctuated by contemplative reflections on the nature of God and the human mind.
"I lived in the everyday excitement of meeting strangers who unfold in front of you and become people you cannot wait to tell others about. How can you be expected to notice what is happening to your own life? ...and suddenly I look down and see that my feet are pawing strange dirt at the lip of a grave that maybe could be mine. And that is blinding speed."
At age 65 Breslin made a rare doctor's visit due to eye trouble. The eye is nothing, but the attendant MRI shows an entirely unrelated "bulge," which could be a life-threatening aneurysm.
Instantly Breslin recalls the Crown Heights riot after a black child was killed by a car driven by a Jew and a Jewish student was subsequently stabbed. Entering the area in a cab, Breslin was beaten and finally rescued. "The guy with the knife took me by the arm and led me through the crowd. The rest of me was reeling, a flag blowing in a stiff wind."
Breslin's eye was injured in the melee and he seizes on this as an explanation. His memory of the riot is pungent, urgent, but the doctor brushes it off.
The aneurysm confirmed, Breslin makes a joke. The doctor is amazed at his lack of understanding. But: "I also was treating it just as I do any horrible thing that occurs in a day. I report on a tragedy by remaining cold and callous and concentrate on making notes of the smallest details. In the hotel kitchen in Los Angeles, I counted Sirhan Sirhan kicking his legs five times before somebody sat on them after he shot Robert Kennedy."
As he educates himself about the aneurysm and his options, he recalls the deaths of others - Nelson Rockefeller, his beloved wife Rosemary, the New York stabbing of Martin Luther King and his assassination a decade later - and endures the kindness and shocking insensitivity of various friends and colleagues.
He recalls colorful characters from mob bosses to shady polls, rollicking nights in bars where he learned more than any journalism graduate sitting at a computer (he has the older generation's contempt for new ways).
He remembers the cold dread of being broke, the bitterness of his childhood, his own floundering lack of identity - always pretending to be someone else. And all of it in vivid anecdotes that rivet the reader to the page.
In contemplative moments he explores his relationship with God and the Catholic Church and researches the science of the mind, discovering that there isn't one.
And he name-drops a bit. Governor Mario Cuomo asks the state health commissioner to recommend a doctor for his case. On the other hand murderer David Berkowitz, "Son of Sam," once pointed him out, saying " 'That's Jimmy Breslin. He's a very good friend of mine.' "
Vintage Breslin, this is a compulsive page turner; funny, poignant and opinionated. His colorful, rushing style is quintessential New York and uniquely Breslin's.