The Ballad of West Tenth Street: A Novel

( 4 )

Overview

Once upon a time in Manhattan . . .

. . . there stood a pair of fine old brick townhouses on West Tenth Street. One had a blue door with a tarnished brass knocker in the shape of a dolphin. The other was empty. Behind the blue door lived Sadie, the widow of a famous British rocker who died of an overdose, and two of her children, Hamish and Deen.

The children manage to muddle along as best they can with a loving but distracted mother. But their whole world changes when the house...

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The Ballad of West Tenth Street

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Overview

Once upon a time in Manhattan . . .

. . . there stood a pair of fine old brick townhouses on West Tenth Street. One had a blue door with a tarnished brass knocker in the shape of a dolphin. The other was empty. Behind the blue door lived Sadie, the widow of a famous British rocker who died of an overdose, and two of her children, Hamish and Deen.

The children manage to muddle along as best they can with a loving but distracted mother. But their whole world changes when the house next door gets a new owner—a mysterious Southerner who quickly endears himself to his new neighbors, taking them—and their friends—under his protective wing. In doing so, he transforms everything.

Magical, lively, lovely, and unique, The Ballad of West Tenth Street is a contemporary urban fairy tale that delightfully reimagines real life.

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Editorial Reviews

Booklist
“A fairy tale set in modern-day Greenwich Village.”
Jonathan Lethem
“Marjorie Kernan writes about the city as if she sees it with entirely new eyes and is introducing it to her readers for the first time, a trick that shouldn’t work, but does, marvelously.”
Connecticut Post
“Marjorie Kernan has written the sort of totally charming, mood-elevating novel that you finish quickly and then want to pass along to all of your friends.”
Gotham Magazine
“A charming debut novel.”
Sacramento Book Review
“Kernan’s characters are reminiscent of those of Charles Dickens: generally well-meaning, yet flawed. The reader grows to care about what happens to each of these exotic characters...THE BALLAD OF WEST TENTH STREET is a charming and entertaining read.
Booklist
"A fairy tale set in modern-day Greenwich Village."
Sacramento Book Review
"Kernan’s characters are reminiscent of those of Charles Dickens: generally well-meaning, yet flawed. The reader grows to care about what happens to each of these exotic characters...THE BALLAD OF WEST TENTH STREET is a charming and entertaining read.
Gotham Magazine
"A charming debut novel."
Connecticut Post
"Marjorie Kernan has written the sort of totally charming, mood-elevating novel that you finish quickly and then want to pass along to all of your friends."
Jonathan Lethem
"Marjorie Kernan writes about the city as if she sees it with entirely new eyes and is introducing it to her readers for the first time, a trick that shouldn’t work, but does, marvelously."
Publishers Weekly

Full of lower Manhattan's eccentricities, this captivating debut peeks in on the family of a late rock icon, Ree Hollander, in its West 10th Street townhouse. His widow, Sadie, met the rocker after ditching college for a less conventional education in swinging London. A doting mother, Sadie is a "dedicated drinker," whose thirst for vodka has grown since her eldest, Gretchen-the only child old enough to know Ree before he overdosed at 39-checked into a Connecticut mental institution for self-mutilation. The adolescents, Ondine and Hamish, eschew public school for lessons from their bohemian neighbors. Also afloat in this quirky sea are London-based Brian, Ree's best friend and bandmate who's lusted after Sadie since Ree's death 12 years ago, and Cap'n Meat, a genteel bum and Vietnam vet who guards the children from less savory street characters. When a near-fatal motorcycle accident sends Sadie back to London, this unlikely circle tightens around the Hollander kids. Blending a local's familiarity with a first-timer's awe, Keenan's portrait of Manhattan is vividly drawn, an insightful illustration of how a string of city blocks can feel like home. (Apr.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Sadie Hollander, the widow of a British rock star, is quietly drinking herself into oblivion. She lives with her two gifted children in a Greenwich Village town house, but life begins to change for the Hollanders when the house next door is purchased by the Colonel, an elderly Southern gentleman. Under the Colonel's aegis, people begin to create an unlikely family-including Cap'n Meat, the homeless Vietnam veteran with his pet cat, Titus; the ultra-efficient interior designer Mrs. De Angelo; Joe, a nonunion repairman who plays honky-tonk piano; Ette, the Colonel's South American housekeeper; and Deen and Hamish Hollander, who worry about their mother's drinking and their institutionalized older sister, Gretchen. This is, however, New York, and there are also dangerous, malignant individuals on the scene. Kernan, an artist, masterly limns her assemblage of New Yorkers in this first novel. Her vivid characterizations of these damaged but good-hearted people and the joyous but realistic manner in which she draws New York City come together in an utterly charming fable about the creation of community. Highly recommended for fiction collections.
—Andrea Kempf

Kirkus Reviews
Debut novelist Kernan excavates a small parcel of Manhattan turf and dissects its host of eccentric inhabitants: old and young, rich and poor, artfully rendered and not. Middle-aged Sadie Hollander should be enjoying her position of monied bohemian splendor. As the matriarch of a Greenwich Village townhouse, she's free to pursue whatever she pleases, thanks to the funds left by her late husband, Ree, a famous British rock musician. But life is a struggle for Sadie. Her eldest daughter, Gretchen, is institutionalized; her growing drinking problem is alienating her from her two youngest children, Hamish and Deen; and she's receiving unwelcome romantic overtures from Ree's old bandmate, Brian. Though it all sounds dour, Kernan generally gives Sadie's predicaments a light, almost fantastic touch. Indeed, the book's cast is stuffed with comically idiosyncratic characters, from Deen, a 14-year-old piano prodigy, to Colonel Harrington, a new neighbor with a genial high-tea demeanor, and Cap'n Meat, a homeless Vietnam vet cared for by both the Harrington and Hollander households. The novel has a decidedly Victorian air, with its sprawl of characters and episodic plot-Deen tries to escape a belligerent piano teacher, Cap'n Meat eludes a stalker, Sadie tends to Brian after an accident-and Kernan isn't shy about stressing the point by referencing Jane Eyre and Little Dorrit. Charlotte Bronte and Charles Dickens were never so sloppy, however, and as the story hastens to a close it becomes decentralized, with main threads left hanging in favor of one of the weakest subplots. Many of the secondary characters are constructed out of the flimsiest cardboard, not least the housekeepers (consistentlykindhearted foreigners) and the fellow employed to fix Harrington's plumbing system (constantly grousing about union labor). Kernan devotes too much space to these supporting players, presumably hoping to evoke Dickens's deep understanding of the entire class ladder. She lacks the chops and seriousness to pull off anything so ambitious. Blurry panorama of an unrealistic city.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061669170
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/24/2009
  • Series: P.S. Series
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Marjorie Kernan, a former painter, owns an antiques shop on the coast of Maine. This is her first novel.

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Read an Excerpt

The Ballad of West Tenth Street

Chapter One

On Fifth Avenue, in lower Manhattan, at the corner of Eleventh Street, stands the First Presbyterian Church, a gloomy edifice made of blackened sandstone. Should you turn there and walk along West Eleventh, you will pass the row house the Weather Underground blew up while dabbling in explosives, then the New School's glass and steel building, and finally Gene's Restaurant and the back dining room of Charlie Mom's, where couples glumly eat sautéed broccoli and mu shu pork.

Cross Sixth Avenue to West Tenth Street, past where the old Jefferson Market courthouse stands on an island, its clock tower a finger raised to the sky and its booming note a reminder to passersby that they are either late, on time, or free of such cares.

West of Seventh Avenue the cross streets run off at a southerly angle. With this shift comes a sense of entering another New York, an older and less orderly one. The names of the streets change as well, from utilitarian numbers to names evoking distant landowners, orchards, and inns. The noise of traffic recedes. Sparrows chitter in the trees.

The remaining Federal townhouses of the West Village keep company with every conceivable architectural fad: high Victorian apartment blocks with Gothic porticos, brick cottages with a galleon in stained glass on each window, stolid Civil War-era merchant's houses with stables behind, engine companies with arched red doors, twenties white brick garages and brownstones. Most of the buildings have an expensive, well-groomed air but a few tenements survive, bra-zenly declaring their poverty, their stone facades coatedin dingy beige paint and a row of dented trash cans chained to their front.

Go a little farther and you'll cross Bleecker Street, with its boutiques and French pastry shops. Near the end of the next block stand a pair of fine old brick townhouses. One has a blue door with a tarnished brass knocker in the shape of a dolphin. The other is empty. A handsome sign declares it For Sale. The Cavendish Group, it reads, Is Pleased to Announce this Very Fine Property. A telephone number is obligingly given below.

From the house with the blue door, a bang and a clatter comes from the narrow kitchen area below the street. The door opens and a boy with long reddish hair hauls out a carton. "Seven, eight," he counts as he drops bottles from the carton into a bin, the bottles clanking. He shakes his head and goes back inside.

Clumping, making as much noise as possible, as is the nature of boys, he climbs three flights of stairs to the attic floor. There he flops down on one end of the blue leather sofa in front of the TV, which is blank.

"Eight," he announced to his sister, who sat at the other end of the sofa. "Eight in one week. She's drinking like mad again."

"Uh-huh," Deen said, not really listening.

"I'm gonna draw a picture of her liver, all green and purple, and paste it up in her bathroom. Or maybe I'll do one of her puking it right out." He took a pad of paper and a box of colored pencils from the table and began some preliminary lines.

"Hey, Deen?"

"Yeah, Hamish?"

"You have noticed she's acting pretty weird again lately? When's the full moon, do you know?"

"No. Oh, I get it. Okay, I'll check—the paper's right here, hang on a sec. Oh geeze, it's Saturday."

"Aw, shit! And she always drinks more on weekends. What if she goes bonkers again with the pills and all, and this time they don't pump her stomach out in time? What if she dies and we're poor pitiful orphans and have to be adopted by some Mormon family or something, some people who do good works and all that shit, and you'll have to wear gingham dresses down to your ankles and marry some old lech named Jezekial?"

"Geeze, Hames, what'd you eat for breakfast, a bowl of raw paranoia? Munster'll be fine. She only lost track of how many pills she'd taken that one time. Besides, Uncle Brian would adopt us."

"Yeah, then why'd she bake a tennis shoe for dinner last night? With tomatoes, for Christ's sake."

"Okay," Deen said wearily. "I tell you what—we'll get up in the middle of the night to check on her. We can take turns. I'll find a little mirror to hold over her mouth to make sure she's still breathing."

Hamish responded with a dissatisfied sigh. He began a new drawing. Deen went back to her book.

"Hey Deen?" he said. "You think we'll grow up to be like them?"

"Lushes and pill poppers, you mean? Or junkies?"

"I've got a theory about it all, you want to hear it?"

"Be my guest. I'm sure it's highly scientific."

"Well, it is. It's this: You and I got Pops's hair, right? And sort of his looks. And Gretchen's got Munster's hair and totally her looks. So Munster's crazy and drinks and Gretchen's crazy, so that means you and I are more likely to turn out like Pops."

"Dead of an overdose at thirty-nine? Thanks, Hames. But I'm happy to inform you that it's not all that simple. For one thing I'm going to be a classical pianist, not some crazed rocker. And Munster and Gretchen are crazy because Pops died. You and I aren't, because we were too little to miss him."

"I guess. So what do you think I'll be when I grow up?"

"I dunno. You're too young to tell yet. An artist of some kind probably. What're you drawing?"

"Pops dead in the hotel room. I made his skin just ever so slightly green, see?"

"It's pretty good. You think he really made that big a mess in the room when he died, though?"

"Naw, he ran around messing everything up before."

The Ballad of West Tenth Street. Copyright © by Marjorie Kernan. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 5 of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 20, 2013

    Good read

    The story can be sad and sweet all at the same time. I love fiction set in my fav city, Manhattan, and this one fits that category. It's nice to get a little city neighborhood history as well. It's a good read but something .... Maybe the sadness? ... Keeps it from great status. Definitely read it.

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  • Posted November 7, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I can't wait for the movie

    The Ballad of West Tenth Street by Marjorie Kernan contains a diverse roster of characters and personalities you'd probably be friends with if you were an eccentric bohemian living in the West Village. You can pick your friends but not your neighbors. The myriad of personalities--weak and strong, good and evil, lost and unaware give the novel a roller coaster-like feel. I enjoyed the segmented chapters making it an easy transition from character to character. There are many surprising twists and turns that make the story amazingly interesting. Sometimes people try to remind us that you can give of yourself until it hurts. I hope they make this novel into a movie. If they do, I'll be the first in line on opening day. I look forward to her next novel.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 8, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing 1 – 5 of 4 Customer Reviews

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