When picking up the latest by Trevanian, a reader must bear in mind that Trevanian is a versatile author and that his latest may resemble nothing he has written before. Yet he is one of those rare authors who succeeds, no matter what genre he tries. If you read The Crazyladies of Pearl Street expecting a spy novel like Shibumi, you will be disappointed. If you are a curious reader, expecting to be stimulated and entertained, and to appreciate a good prose, then you will find what you are looking for here.
The Crazyladies of Pearl Street is an autobiographical book (sort of), which is narrated by the young Jean-Luke. The story beings with Jean-Luke, his mother and his sister Anne-Marie arriving at Pearl Street, basically a slum. His health-wise fragile, mood-wise fickle mother has received a mail from her husband asking them to join him in Albany. But we never meet the man. We learn that he is a conman, appearing for brief periods of time, enough to charm the mother and get her pregnant, then disappearing, never to be heard from again for many years. So begins the life of this small family on Pearl Street. It is actually the story of an impoverished family on welfare, hardly affording anything, feeding on what the government can spare them. But for a story of such destituteness, it is not a depressing one. Quite the contrary it is filled with nostalgia for a whole different time, when radio and going to the movies supplied the sole entertainment, when America learned to grow up with World War II, when even the soon to be criminal boys of ghetto did not swear. It is a real story that takes you to the 30s and 40s America. Yet I think the trick here isn't that those were the good old days, but that these are the childhood memories of our author. Like every other childhood memory, this one has a longing you can associate with, even though you have never listened to a radio show that did not include pop music in your life. I can only imagine that such childhood memoirs can be very boring as the subject of a novel, but this one's written by Trevanian and not even for one sentence does it lag. From the first page to the last, it is captivating. I love it when a novel can transport me to a time and place I have never been, and does it so successfully that I do not feel like a stranger for one minute, and Crazyladies of Pearl Street does just that.
For Trevanian fans, this novel is double fulfilling because it gives you an insight into the mind of this mysterious author. I thoroughly enjoyed reading his takes on radio versus television, IQ tests, religion, contemporary American politics... Some of which are in his cybernotes, not in the novel.
Highly recommended to Trevanian fans and non-fans alike.