Trevanian, the mystery-shrouded author best known for "The Eiger Sanction" and "Shibumi," culminates his varied literary career with a novel...

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“The Crazyladies of Pearl Street”
by Trevanian
Crown, 367 pp., $24.95

Trevanian, the mystery-shrouded author best known for “The Eiger Sanction” and “Shibumi,” culminates his varied literary career with a novel touted as autobiographical.

“The Crazyladies of Pearl Street” begins in 1930s Albany, N.Y., and closes with a brief scene or two on Puget Sound. This meticulously detailed coming-of-age story is narrated by young Jean-Luc LaPointe. He, his little sister, Anne-Marie, and their sickly but spirited mother, Ruby, have been abandoned repeatedly by his dad. When the lying bum vanishes for good in 1936, Ruby and children end up in the slums of Albany, on Pearl Street.

Six-year-old Jean-Luc becomes his mother’s trusted “right hand.” These are the “character-building” Depression years — and in Jean-Luc’s neighborhood everybody is a character all right, from the Jewish storekeeper at the corner to the cowboy upstairs; from the devoted teacher at school to the women up and down the street who, half-nuts from abject poverty, still struggle to keep their families together.

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By turns wry, angry, tender and self-deprecatingly funny, Trevanian creates a heartfelt portrait of a Depression-era family that perhaps resembles his own. In so clearly evoking the time and the place in which that family lived, he also illuminates a can-do mind-set that defined America in subsequent decades.

In case you miss where he is coming from, socially and politically speaking, Trevanian studs the text with “cybernotes,” which can be accessed on his Web site, www.trevanian.com. These range from paeans to the fine art of pencil-chewing to rants about the moral collapse of the United States. (Supposedly an expatriate who has lived in France for many years, Trevanian is no fan of the current administration.) As to the mildly irritating matter of his coyness about his identity, maybe now that Deep Throat has revealed himself, Trevanian will feel compelled to follow.