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North River

North River

4.2 48
by Pete Hamill

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It is 1934, and New York City is in the icy grip of the Great Depression. With enormous compassion, Dr. James Delaney tends to his hurt, sick, and poor neighbors, who include gangsters, day laborers, prostitutes, and housewives. If they can't pay, he treats them anyway.

But in his own life, Delaney is emotionally numb, haunted by the slaughters of the Great


It is 1934, and New York City is in the icy grip of the Great Depression. With enormous compassion, Dr. James Delaney tends to his hurt, sick, and poor neighbors, who include gangsters, day laborers, prostitutes, and housewives. If they can't pay, he treats them anyway.

But in his own life, Delaney is emotionally numb, haunted by the slaughters of the Great War. His only daughter has left for Mexico, and his wife Molly vanished months before, leaving him to wonder if she is alive or dead. Then, on a snowy New Year's Day, the doctor returns home to find his three-year-old grandson on his doorstep, left by his mother in Delaney's care. Coping with this unexpected arrival, Delaney hires Rose, a tough, decent Sicilian woman with a secret in her past. Slowly, as Rose and the boy begin to care for the good doctor, the numbness in Delaney begins to melt.

Recreating 1930s New York with the vibrancy and rich detail that are his trademarks, Pete Hamill weaves a story of honor, family, and one man's simple courage that no reader will soon forget.

Editorial Reviews

Dr. James Delaney's inner life is a numbing vacancy. It is 16 years after the end of World War I, but his days are still haunted by its bloody terror. His wife has left him, or simply disappeared; his only child has gone to Mexico; and he ekes out a Depression existence, tending to his down-and-out neighbors whether they can pay or not. This almost robotic crawl continues until he is unexpectedly charged with the care of his three-year-old grandson. Delaney hires Rose, a Sicilian immigrant, to assist him with his new charge. Rose has her own emotional baggage, but her arrival and the toddler's reshape the mild doctor's life. Pete Hamill's tenth novel manages to pull your heartstrings without rousing your cynicism.
Publishers Weekly

Hamill's quietly engrossing novel skillfully conjures the gritty world of lower Manhattan during the Depression, weaving elements of suspense, comedy and romance as Jim Delaney navigates the melting pot city. Strozier reads Delaney's part with gravelly and wise authority. He transforms his tone convincingly as Delaney, a newly widowed doctor and war vet, finds his bitter heart starting to thaw when he is left to care for his grandson Carlos. Delaney hires a Sicilian immigrant, Rose, to help care for the child, and Strozier offers a credible take on her thickly accented, husky but womanly voice. Strozier also gives impressively distinctive voices to a long cast of well-drawn characters such as a good-hearted mobster, a brash young Jewish hospital doctor and assorted recent Irish immigrants who depend on Delaney's comforting ministrations. Listening to Strozier read Hamill's evocative descriptions of Delaney walking through Union Square, Greenwich Village and Chinatown and his encounters with a wide variety of New York denizens, one can almost feel that former Manhattan resurrected. Simultaneous release with the Little, Brown hardcover (Reviews, Apr. 23). (Aug.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal
In Depression-era New York, Dr. James Delaney generously helps others, but since his wife and daughter have disappeared, he can barely help himself. Everything changes when he must care for the grandson abandoned on his doorstep. Hamill revisits the New York he loves; with a five-city tour. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal

North River is an evocative account of life in New York City in 1934. As the effects of the Depression rage all around him, Dr. James Delaney tries to serve the needs of his mostly Irish and Italian patients. His life had been disrupted a year earlier by the disappearance of his wife, but an even bigger change occurs when daughter Grace deposits her three-year-old son, Carlito, on his doorstep while she goes to Spain to search for her Marxist husband. The doctor hires a Sicilian immigrant, Rose, to look after the boy and finds himself changed forever by the two. Hamill diminishes the sentimental nature of his tale by having James and Rose caught up in a conflict between warring mob factions. Henry Strozier narrates in an engagingly gruff manner yet provides vivid, credible voices for Rose and Carlito. Recommended for popular collections.
—Michael Adams Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information

Kirkus Reviews
Hamill (Forever, 2002, etc.) returns with a gritty Depression-era story about a grief-stricken doctor rejuvenated by an unwelcome challenge: raising his small grandson. New Year's Day, 1934: New York is buried under snow. Dr. Jim Delaney, middle-aged, Irish, is summoned to treat Eddie Corso, a mobster shot in a gang war. Delaney and Eddie were in the trenches in France in 1918; the doctor would never forsake him. He gives his friend a morphine shot and smuggles him into the hospital for surgery. When he returns to his home in downtown Manhattan, he finds a boy he's never seen before; there's a note from his teenage daughter Grace, pleading for him to take care of two-year-old Carlito; she's off to Spain to look for her husband, a Mexican revolutionary. Delaney is furious with Grace, the only child he spoiled rotten, in an effort to make amends for his absence in France. His wife Molly never did forgive his volunteering to be a medic; 16 months before she had walked toward the river, never to return. Delaney has been on autopilot ever since as he attends scrupulously to his poverty-stricken patients and makes house calls. Carlito could be the last straw, but the doctor rallies with the help of Rose, an attractive Sicilian immigrant he hires to run his new household. Meanwhile, Eddie's gangland rival is demanding to know Eddie's whereabouts. Carlito must be protected, from the patients' germs inside and prowling mobsters outside. Trying times, but the upside is that Delaney comes alive again, enchanted by Carlito and strongly attracted to the indispensable Rose. Hamill's story continues strong up to the halfway point, when he runs out of plot. Delaney and Rose eventually become lovers,though Rose seems more at home in the kitchen than the bedroom. Better realized than the lovers is a vanished New York, with its appalling proneness to disease, its rough streets and hectic pleasures. Hamill the realist prevails (mostly) over the sentimentalist in this above-average entertainment.

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North River

By Pete Hamill

Little, Brown and Company

Copyright © 2007 Pete Hamill
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-316-34058-8

Chapter One

Delaney knew he'd been in the dream before, knew from the hurting whiteness, the icy needles that closed his eyes, the silence, the force of the river wind. But knowing it was a dream did not ease his fear. As before, he waved his bare hands to push through the whiteness, but as before the whiteness was porous and he knew it was snow. As before, there was no horizon. As before, his feet floated through frozen powder. There was no ground beneath him. There was nothing to grip. No picket fence. No lamppost. And no people.

No friend.

No woman.

As before: just the driving force of the snow ...

Then he was awake in the blue darkness. A sound. A bell. His hand clumsy with sleep, he lifted the black telephone on the night table. Still dead. Someone at the wrought iron gate below the stoop was jerking the old bell rope, making an urgent ding- dinging sound. A sound he had heard too many times. Shivering in cotton summer- time pajamas, he threw off the covers. Ding-ding-DING. The window shade was raised a foot, the window two inches, part of Delaney's desire for fresh air on the coldest winter nights. Drifted snow covered the oaken sill. He raised the shade and could see the snow moving horizontally from the North River. The wind whined. A midnight snowfall was now a dawn blizzard. Ripping in from the west along Horatio Street. Goddamn you, Monique! Answer the goddamned bell! And remembered that his nurse was gone for the long New Year's holiday, off somewhere with her boyfriend. Delaney pulled a flannel robe over his shoulders and parted the dark blue drapes, as if obeying the orders of the downstairs bell. Ding- ding. Ding- ding- DING. He glanced at the clock. Six-seventeen. The bell demanding attention. On a day of morning sleep all over New York. He raised the window, its glass rimed with the cold. Snow blew harder across the sill. He poked his head into the driving snow and looked down. At the gate under the stoop, a man was pulling the rope attached to the bell. Delaney knew him. A man who looked like an icebox in an overcoat. Bootsie, they called him. Bootsie Cirillo. Snow was piled on his pearl-gray fedora and the shoulders of his dark blue overcoat. At the sound of the window rising, he had stepped back and was now looking up.

"Doc? Eddie Corso sent me, Doc." His voice was raspy. "He needs you. Right now."

"Give me five minutes," Delaney said.

"Make it t'ree."

Delaney sighed, closed the window, and dressed quickly in rough clothes. Thinking: These goddamned hoods are worse since the movies got sound. Make it t'ree. Christ, I'm too old for these guys. He pulled a sweater over his denim shirt, added a scarf and a cloth cap with a longshoreman's pin. A gift from Knocko Carmody of the dock wallopers' union. Delaney pulled on bridgemen's shoes and took his time lacing them. Then he pocketed keys, some dollar bills, picked up his worn black leather bag, and went down the hall stairs to go out through the gate under the stoop. The snow hit his face, again like needles. Again he closed his eyes. The dream, the goddamned dream ... all the way from the last years of the nineteenth century.

"You took too much time, Doc," Bootsie said. "This is fucking bad." He turned and shook the snow off his fedora and used it to brush powder off his shoulders. Snow was gathering on the roof and hood of the black Packard that was two feet from the curb. Bootsie jerked open the door on the passenger side, gesturing with his head for Delaney to get in, then moved around to take the wheel.

"We're late," he said.

"I did my best, Bootsie," Delaney said, sliding into the front seat and closing the door. The fat man started the car and pulled out, the snow rising loosely from the hood. Bootsie drove east on Horatio Street, the wind whipping hard behind them. There was no traffic. The car skidded on the turn at Hudson Street.

"Maybe I should walk," Delaney said.

"Eddie's maybe nine blocks from here."

"He's a thousand miles from here if you get us killed, Bootsie."

The fat man grunted, slowed down. The window was foggy from their breathing, and Bootsie took out a white silk handkerchief and wiped at it. Then handed the handkerchief to Delaney. The doctor wiped at the steamy front window on his side, then rolled the side window down an inch. Bootsie grunted.

"How come you don't got a car?" Bootsie said. "You could follow me." "Can't afford it."

"Come on. You're a doctor."

"That's why I can't afford it."

"These bust- outs around here, they don't pay?"

"They're poor, Bootsie. They still get sick."

The fat man turned, made a right and another right, heading toward Little Italy. A few kids were coming down from the tenements. One of them was carrying a surplice, its hem emerging below a wrapping of Christmas paper, the boy off to serve the seven o'clock mass at Sacred Heart. As Delaney so often did, long ago. He noticed that up here the streetlights were still working. Another zone in the city grid. Another world.

"What happened to Eddie?"

"You'll find out."

"Maybe I could get ready if you told me what happened."

Bootsie sighed, pondered this, made another turn through the snow- packed streets. Parked cars were turning into immense white sculptures in the wind- driven snow.

"Mr. Corso got shot, maybe an hour ago."


"The stomach. Maybe the arm too. And maybe the hand. There's blood all over his fingers ..."

"I mean, where'd it happen?"

"The club. We had a New Year's party, all the guys, the wives. A band too, and all the usual shit, noisemakers, funny hats. Most people go home, maybe t'ree in the morning. Some of the guys go over Chinatown to get laid. Then there's a card game, whiskey, a big pot. I cook up some breakfast, scramble eggs, sausage, the usual. Then in the door comes t'ree jaboneys, guns out. They don't say a word. They just start shooting. Then everybody's shooting. The t'ree shooters go down, but so does Mr. Corso. He's hurt real bad, but he says, 'Go throw these cocksuckers in the river.' I stay with him while the other guys haul the dead guys away. It's still dark, see? Nobody on the street. All the lights out. No cops. Nothing. Just the fucking snow."

He pulled up a few doors from the storefront housing the Good Men Social and Athletic Club. The street was empty. He and Delaney got out. Bootsie knocked on the door. Three fast raps, then two. A sallow man with dead eyes peered out, opened the door wider. Most of the lights were out.

"Took your fuckin' time," the sallow man said to Bootsie.

"Fast as I could, Carmine. It's a fuckin' blizzard out there."

The club was a mess of noisemakers, funny hats, overturned tables, and blood. Delaney could see smears through the blood where bodies had been dragged. Against the wall, Eddie Corso was lying on a cot. He smiled thinly when he saw Delaney.

"Medic, medic," he whispered, and then grinned in a bleary way.

There was blood on his face, probably from his wet crimson hand, but there was a huge spreading stain of blood on the white shirt.

"Jesus, it hurts like a bastard, Doc."

"You've been through worse."

He grinned. "Morphine, morphine ..." The call of the trenches in the rain. "Please, Doc ..."

Corso laughed and then moaned, and Delaney gave him what he needed. He swabbed his arm with cotton soaked in alcohol, prepared a syringe, then injected him with a shot of morphine. Corso winced, then sighed in a gargly way. Delaney ripped open the bloody shirt to look at the worst wound, then used pressure and tape to staunch the bleeding.

"You've got to go to a hospital, Eddie."

"A hospital? You nuts? You might as well drive me to the Daily News." His voice was quavering and whispery with morphine. "This can't get out. This -"

"I can't do what you need, Eddie," Delaney said. "You need a surgeon."

"You did it in the Argonne, Doc!"

"And botched it for too many guys."

"You didn't botch it for me!"

"You need a professional surgeon, Eddie. Someone whose right hand works right, not like mine. Someone at St. Vincent's."

"Anybody comes in shot, the nuns call the cops." "Let me see what I can do," Delaney said. "Your phone working?"

"Yeah," Bootsie said. "Over there."

Delaney called St. Vincent's, identifi ed himself, asked which surgeons were on duty, and held on. His eyes moved around the club, the blood and disorder, and Eddie Corso moaning, and the sallow man guarding the door, and Bootsie nibbling at some cake left on the bar. His gaze fell on the framed photographs of prizefi ghters and ballplayers, of old picnics, feasts, weddings, and then on the browning photograph of the remnant of the battalion. In a gouged field in France. All of them were still young, the farm boys and the city rats, and he could see Eddie Corso laughing like a man who'd won a lottery, always joking, as brave as any man Delaney had ever known. He saw himself too, off on the side, with his medic's armband, his face gaunt, a cigarette in his good right hand.

"Hello, hello," came the voice on the phone. "This is Dr. Zimmerman."

"Thank God," Delaney said, relieved that it was this particular young intern. "Jake, I need a big favor."

It was after eleven when Bootsie dropped him off at the house on Horatio Street. They had taken Eddie Corso through an old delivery entrance at the side of the hospital and hurried him into surgery. If he lived, there would be no records. If he died, it didn't matter. Around ten, Jake Zimmerman came out, young and bony and frazzled, and told Delaney with a nod and a thin smile that Eddie would survive. The nuns would bring him along after the operation, adhering to their own special vows of silence.

"By the way," Zimmerman said, "where'd your patient get those scars? One on the back, one on the leg?"

"The Argonne," Delaney said. "I sewed him up. That's why it looks so bad."

"The Argonne?"


"You never told me that."

"It was a long time ago, Jake."

In another life.

Now he was on Horatio Street, with the snow still blowing hard. Bootsie's exhausted breathing had fogged the windows. Delaney opened the door.

"Thanks, Bootsie," he said.

"Thank you, Doc."

Then he reached over and touched Delaney's arm.

"You're a good fuckin' man, Doc."

"I wish," Delaney said, and stepped into the driving snow.

He looked up at the small brick house, the one he'd been given at her death by Evelyn Langdon. Ten years ago now, in a good year, before the goddamned Depression. She was the last of the old Protestant families who had come to the street in the 1840s, fleeing cholera and the Irish, building their impregnable brick and brownstone fortresses. He had kept her alive until she was seventy-three. She had outlived her two children and all of her friends. When she died and the will was read, there was a note to Delaney, explaining that the house was now for him and his wife, Molly, and his daughter, Grace. You have been my last and perhaps truest friend. Please use this house to enrich human life.

Well, I did try, he thought as he opened the iron front gate under the stoop, remembering Evelyn's note. I tried, and too often failed. Most of all, I've failed those I loved the most.

Then he noticed the disturbed snow on the stoop itself, and, at the top, a fog rising on the tall glass windows of the vestibule. It was like Bootsie's fog in the car, a streaky, uneven fog made by breathing. He hurried up the steps, gripping the iron banister with his good left hand. Foot marks were drifted over with fresh snow. He glanced back to the street, but Bootsie was gone.

The vestibule door was unlocked. It was always unlocked, so that in bad weather the boy from Reilly's candy store could drop off the newspapers. In the left corner, he glimpsed the Times, the News, the Mirror. Maybe the footprints belonged to the newspaper boy. Maybe.

Then, pushing the door open a few inches, he saw the baby stroller. It was worn and ratty with age, strands of its wicker hood sprung and loose. Like something bought at a secondhand shop. Under a pile of covers, his head wrapped in a green scarf and a yellow wool hat, was a child.

He knew this boy with the wide, wary brown eyes. He had not seen him since the boy was six days old, another unformed infant huddled in the nursery of New York Hospital. But he had his mother's eyes, and her blond hair. That morning Grace had let him hold the boy, saying only that the boy's father, Rafael Santos of Cuernavaca, Mexico, was out running errands. She was not even seventeen that morning, his and Molly's only child. Now a child with a child. Smart, gifted, spoiled, but a child. Like ten thousand other young mothers in New York. When Delaney returned to the hospital, late the next morning, she and the baby were gone. Almost three years now. The postcards came for a while. From Key West. From Cuba. Later Grace wrote a longer letter from Mexico, telling Delaney and Molly that all three Santoses had boarded a ship to Veracruz, with stops along the way. I tried calling before we left, she wrote. Nobody was home. Molly read the letter fi rst, then slapped it against Delaney's chest. "Spoiled rotten," she said. "By you." There were a few more letters, cryptic or guarded, as if Grace was afraid of having them read by anyone else. And then the letters stopped. It was like an erasure on a charcoal drawing. Grace was there in his life, and in Molly's, but not there. He never did meet the goddamned husband.

He unlocked the inner vestibule door and wheeled the silent boy into the hall, closing doors firmly behind him. His own bedroom was to the left on the street side, the former parlor converted long ago by some forgotten inhabitant, with the former bedroom now full of chairs and couches, looking out on the back garden. Sliding oak doors separated the rooms, but the parquet floors stretched from front windows to rear like a dense oaken plain. He gently freed the boy from the blankets, thinking: Goddamned swaddling clothes. The boy had a lighter version of his mother's dark blond hair, and he gazed up at Delaney in silence. And then Delaney saw the letter on the boy's lap. Addressed DADDY. Sealed. He dropped it on the bed. Thinking: I'll read this later, but not in front of the boy. I don't want him to see my rage. She will explain herself, of course, but I can't stop now. He slipped off his heavy clothes and felt a chilly dampness penetrating the room. Thinking: Build a fire. He lifted the child, breathing hard on the boy's cold cheeks. Then the boy moved his arms. His face looked as if he had a toothache.

"Mamá," he said, waving a freed hand toward the door. With an accent on the second syllable. "Mamá?"

"We'll find her, boy. Don't worry."


The boy was wearing a pale blue snowsuit with a dark blue sweater underneath, and Delaney removed it and then lifted him and placed him standing beside the bed, his feet planted on the threadbare Persian rug. Carlos. His name is Carlos. A good weight. Maybe twentynine, thirty pounds. A healthy weight. Clear skin too. Small white teeth. He smelled of milk. The boy stood there, a hand on the mattress, gazing around at the strange high- ceilinged room, with its electric lights rising from the channels of old gas lamps, the dark glazed paintings on the walls, the dresser that held Delaney's clothes. The boy was looking at the two framed photographs on top of the dresser. Delaney's wife, Molly, when she was twenty-five. Grace, when she was sixteen, about the time she met Rafael Santos somewhere out in the city. Delaney thought: The boy has intelligent eyes. Yes. His mother's eyes.

"Mamá!" the boy said, pointing. "Mamá!"

"Yes," Delaney said, "that's your mama."

The coals were ashen gray in the fireplace, and Delaney squatted, crumpled an old newspaper, built a small house of kindling, struck a match. He thought: What the hell is this, anyway? I've treated about three thousand kids this size, this age, but I don't know a goddamned thing about taking care of them. Not even for a day. I didn't even know how to take care of my own daughter when she was this boy's age. I went to the war instead. The boy watched him, his dark eyes widening as the flame erupted. He glanced back at the photograph, then looked again at the fi re, as Delaney used a shovel to lift a few chunks of coal from the scuttle. Delaney felt his right shoulder begin to ache. Not from the cold. But he would have to do something to keep the boy warm in this large, drafty house. In the good years before the Crash, Delaney had installed a hot-water system in the house, not easy because it was built in 1840. Before he could convert the house to steam heat, the banks had failed, taking his money with them. The heat still belonged to the nineteenth century. Wood and paper and coal in a manteled fireplace. The boy seemed to love it, flexing his small hands for warmth. I've got to feed him too. But almost no restaurants would be open on New Year's Day. Not until tonight. He must need to eat. Christ, I need to eat. Breakfast. Christ, no: lunch.


Excerpted from North River by Pete Hamill Copyright © 2007 by Pete Hamill. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Pete Hamill is a novelist, journalist, editor, and screenwriter. He is the author of 15 previous books including the bestselling novel Snow in August and the bestselling memoir A Drinking Life. He writes a column for the New York Daily News and lives in New York City.

Brief Biography

New York, New York, and Cuernavaca, Mexico
Date of Birth:
Place of Birth:
Brooklyn, New York
Mexico City College, 1956-1957; Pratt Institute

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4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 48 reviews.
KenCady More than 1 year ago
North River is one of my favorite novels in the last year. I loved the way it takes us into old New York and lets us feel the sights and sounds as they were then. The tale of the doctor making housecalls does indeed seem like a fantasy in the light of today's healthcare.
irma40 More than 1 year ago
Wonderfully crafted with an unusual plot. Setting becomes alive in this historic fiction.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have not been disappointed with Pete Hamill's books. This one is a great read, great story, great ending. I loved it!
eins1776 More than 1 year ago
This is onle the second book of Pete Hamill's I have read and it easily solidified him as my all-time favorite author. I have ready many, many authors and many, many styles but Hamills gift for story telling is the most beautiful I've experianced. At first glance, this is not the kind of subject matter I would be prone to pick up; the time period alone would usually tern me off instantly. However, I found this to be one of the most touching books I have ever read. I laughed aloud, cried, swore in anger and wished that I could simply tuck myself away in a room with an armchair, a fire place and an endless supply of Hamill's prose.
Sander3 More than 1 year ago
As usual Pete Hamill delivers an interesting look into the lives of every day New Yorkers and their interplay with the growth of the city.Connecting characters from other writings was fun to see. He really has a great feel for a great city.
acura More than 1 year ago
I read Forever (very good), then Snow in August (excellent) and then North River. It was my favorite of his works. A beautiful and touching love story. Character development is excellent and I enjoyed the interaction between the various characters. A wonderful read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent book that transports one to New York 70 years ago. It has characters that are full and an easy writing style that lulls one into reading the book. Very recommended.
bmamca36 More than 1 year ago
This is the first book that I read by Pete Hamill and was impressed with his writing style. Though this was not a sit on the edge of your seat type of novel it was never boring. It was interesting to read about New York City during the depression era. The characters and the plot were interesting. Delaney is a doctor who lives alone and comes home to find his grandson, Carlito on his doorstep. He hires an immigrant women, Rose to help care for Carlito. They begin to become a family and Delaney is beginning to have romantic feelings for Rosa but the are from separate classes, he a doctor, she domestic help which wasn't acceptable in that era. It was a nice love story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This a very well-written novel with a good story line, a great read. Highly recommended.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you enjoy period pieces, especially about New York, the Depression, WWII and early medical practices then you'll like 'North River'. A heartwarming story of love and redemption, of crime and corruption. Hamill does a fine job with this one.
MaryAnnGA More than 1 year ago
I was captured on page one, and remained so throughout my trip through this gripping novel. Mystery, and twists and turns. A page turner.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thoroughly enjoyed this book. I felt as though I was living in New York in the depression. Wonderful characters. I was very sorry that it had to end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book surprised me with its character development. First read of this author. Will definitely consider others.
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CTNooker More than 1 year ago
This is a great read about life and love "back in the day."
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Nancybook More than 1 year ago
Well written, interesting story. Great portrayal of 1930's New York. A doctor who really cares about his patients and is left taking care of his grandson after his daughter leaves home. He hires a woman to watch the child and everyone benefits. There are secrets and old hurts to be dealt with. I liked this a lot more than Snow in August, more realistic.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago