October 2009

Fulton Fish Market
Photo by wallyg used under a Creative Commons license.

Joseph Mitchell, Old Mr. Flood (MacAdam/Cage, 2005).
This volume collects three long stories first published in The New Yorker in the mid-1940s about a retired wrecker named Hugh G. Flood, a 90-year-old determined to live to the age of 115 on fresh seafood and Scotch. Like Flood, Mitchell liked to hang around Manhattan’s Fulton Fish Market, where Fulton Street runs into the East River, and he created Flood and his world from what he saw there. The Fulton Fish Market is gone now, moved to the Bronx, but it and an older, blue-collar Manhattan live on in Mitchell’s writing. (Note that the contents of this book are also included in the collection, Up in the Old Hotel.)

Google Books lets you take a look. David Berg has a sort of Mitchell primer. Edward Helmore wrote this obituary for Mitchell for The Independent. Garth Risk Hallberg appreciates Mitchell’s work. Thomas Beller (The Village Voice) says Joycean free-associating talkers populate Mitchell’s work, transplanted to the flinty, vanishing waterfront milieu of early-20th-century Manhattan. Meghan O’Rourke (Slate) calls it a great book, as vivid a portrait of the Fulton Fish Market and of working-class life in New York City as any we have. Luan Gaines calls it an intimate look at a gentleman from the old days. Kristin Dodge found it repetitive and rambling. Maud Newton was not impressed. Hardy Green (Business Week) says it is eminently readable and brings a lost world of New York alive. Bryan Waterman wished his neighborhood on the east side had an oyster bar. Then he found a solution. Here is a gallery of odds and ends Mitchell collected from the Fulton Fish Market. Andrew Jacobs wrote about the last day of the old market and Dan Barry wrote about the death of Gloria Wasserman, a market fixture, both in The New York Times.

Buy it at Half.com.

Busy bee
Photo by dreambird used under a Creative Commons license.

Thomas McMahon, McKay’s Bees (Harper Perennial, 1986).
McMahon’s novel centers on Gordon McKay, who leaves Massachusetts for Kansas in 1855 with his new wife and some German carpenters with bees and plans to found a new city on the frontier.  McKay has no strong affinity for abolitionists or slaveowners, though there isn’t much room for neutrality in Bloody Kansas.  This novel is very much of a time, an impressive recreation of historical consciousness.

Google Books provides a preview. Here’s an excerpt. In 1987, Elizabeth Mehren profiled McMahon for the LA Times. Here is McMahon’s obituary in The Harvard Gazette and the obituary from The New York Times. Douglas Bauer (The Boston Globe) is not sure which gives him greater pleasure: finding someone who doesn’t know about the novel and explaining why he must read it immediately, or discovering a fellow admirer and falling into eager conversation about its droll narrative voice and its cast of charming eccentrics and its poetically taut lines. Timothy Foote (Time) says the book is a marvel of brains, brevity and sharp description. Amanda Schaffer (Bookforum) says that McMahon’s overflowing enumeration of human, biological, and mechanical peculiarities—not unlike naturalists’ sketches or case studies—largely defines the novel’s structure, and that his facility for sustained abundance, for quirky upon quirkier detail, accumulates into a tour de force. Dedda Pie calls it absolutely amazing. Phillip Routh thought it went stagnant.

Buy it at Amazon.com.