Dr. James Delaney is a well-respected physician in 1934 New York City. He
makes house calls to mobsters, the poor people in tenements, and houses of
ill repute. Delaney is a good man with a past that haunts him. When
Delaney enlisted to serve in World War I, his wife, Molly, never forgave
him for leaving her and their two-year-old daughter, Grace. Upon
returning from the war, Delaney and Molly’s relationship was never the
same. One day, Molly left the house heading for the North River and never returned.
Haunted by the ravages of the Great War (which left him unable to practice
surgery) and living day to day not knowing whether his wife is dead or
alive, Delaney arrives home from house calls to discover a three-year-old
baby in his front hall. The note left with the baby is from Grace, who
has left the child, Carlito, in her father’s care while she goes off in
search of her rogue husband. Delaney is at a complete loss—and the child
only speaks Spanish. A friend sends him Rose, a Sicilian immigrant, to
help Delaney care for the baby. Rose has secrets of her own, but
notwithstanding, Rose, Delaney, and his grandchild form a semblance of
family life, and Delaney wonders if he could really have a chance to be happy again. But then major developments upset Delaney’s household and his chance for happiness.
Okay, so maybe my synopsis is a little sappy, but we’re talking about Pete
Hamill here—one of my favorite writers. To read Pete Hamill is to
experience Pete Hamill. Born to Irish immigrants in Brooklyn, Hamill left school at 16 to work in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. He then entered the Navy, where he was able to finish high school and go to college on the G.I. Bill. As a journalist, he rose from beat reporter to editor-in-chief of the New York Post and the New York Daily News.
A novelist, essayist, and journalist for over 40 years, Hamill’s vast knowledge of the history of his beloved New York City and his life experiences are evident in his writing. He writes with such a wonderful sense of place that he draws the reader into the story, right down into the streets with the characters.
While Hamill’s epic novel, Forever, is more intense (spanning centuries), North River will certainly please historical fiction fans. It’s a love story, eloquently told, with rich characters and vivid descriptions. I highly recommend it.