Margo Dill: Get a glimpse of New York in a simpler time
"The Christmas Kid and other Brooklyn Stories" is a collection of short stories about Brooklyn, N.Y., mostly set in the 1940s and '50s by bestselling, award-winning author and journalist Pete Hamill.
The interesting thing about this collection of 36 stories is that 33 of them first appeared in a newspaper in the 1980s.
Hamill was a columnist for the New York Daily News, and he wrote a series of fiction stories for his Sunday column — fiction appeared more 30 years ago in the newspaper than it does today. Of the three remaining stories in "The Christmas Kid and other Brooklyn Stories," one was written specifically for the book, and the other two were published in an anthology and magazine before becoming a part of the collection.
In his introduction, Hamill says, "The original notion was to bring short fiction back into a newspaper, in the tradition of O. Henry in New York. ... These tales are set in Brooklyn, the large, dense, beautiful borough where I was born and grew up. I will carry the place with me to the grave."
The title story, "The Christmas Kid," is one of the best stories in the collection, although most are enjoyable and all are well-written. Some of the stories deal with loss, illness and heartache; others focus on family, relationships and friends.
Hamill has a way of looking at life and telling the story of people, so that you're touched by his words and feel like you know his characters personally. Although each story stands alone, because the collection is set in the same place and around the same time with similar themes — it almost feels like a novel.
With Hamill's words, readers see several snapshots of a somewhat typical day for many Brooklyn residents in post-World War II New York.
"The Christmas Kid" relays the story of a Holocaust survivor who comes to live in Brooklyn and how the kids educate him about New York City life while his plight educates them about the world.
"Footsteps" tells the story about a married couple who mistakenly move to a loft in Brooklyn and hear footsteps on their roof.
"A Death in the Family" is about the effects heroin had on the young men in the neighborhood and the revenge one family member decides to take.
These stories and more make up this wonderful collection.
"There were few saints, many sinners, some small heroes, a few cold villains," Hamill writes. "I understood then that in our world, each neighborhood was a kind of shtetl, an urban hamlet, complete with its own lore and legends and heartbreak."
Hamill has written 21 books before this short story collection, including some bestselling novels: "Snow in August," "Forever" and "Tabloid City." He lives in New York City and has a website where you can find out more at http://www.petehamill.com.
Although Christmas is in the title of this book, the stories are not about Christmas or the holidays, really.
The book's about the spirit of living in a city before life was taken over by technology and busy schedules.
If you enjoy reading short stories or New York City or even a bit of historical fiction, then pick up Hamill's latest book.
Margo L. Dill is the author of "Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg," a middle-grade historical fiction novel. She often reviews books as a columnist for "WOW! Women On Writing" e-zine and her blog, "Margo Dill's Read These Books and Use Them" (http://margodill.com/blog/). She lives in St. Louis with her family.