Audiobook Review: North River by Pete Hamill

north riverTitle: North River
Author: Pete Hamill
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Back Bay Books
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Audiobook from the public library
Audiobook reader: Henry Strozier
First line: 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.

North River is the story of Jim Delaney, an Irish doctor living on the North River in New York City. It is the tail end of the Depression, and Hitler is making moves in Europe that are making all the men who remember World War I all to clearly very nervous. Delaney served in World War I, against the wishes of his wife, Molly. He wasn’t drafted; he didn’t have to go. He went, though, in order to do his duty and serve his country. He returned to an angry wife and a daughter who didn’t know him.

Delaney tried to make up for his absence by spoiling his daughter Grace, which only further enraged his wife. The story picks up two years after Molly has walked away from Delaney. She was last seen heading for North River, and was never seen again, dead or alive. Delaney is left in a kind of limbo, a numbness that keeps him from truly living. He is surviving in the Depression because he owns his house and because some of his patients are former Army buddies who now just happen to be part of the Italian mafia. He is haunted by dreams of his experiences in the war and dreams of his lost wife.

One afternoon, he returns from his house calls to find a stroller in his foyer. The stroller contains his 2-year-old grandson, Carlito. His daughter Grace has left a note explaining that she needs Delaney to take care of Carlito while she goes to find her Mexican revolutionary husband. Delaney is furious with his daughter’s selfishness, but his anger is quickly turned to gentleness as he begins to love his grandson. Carlito shows Delaney how to truly see the world again, how to find the wonder in things, how to feel.

Delaney’s friend Angela sends Rose Verga to help care for the child, a proud, big-hearted Italian woman who opens her heart to Carlito, and to Jim. She has her own history, and these two wounded souls are drawn together over their love for the boy. They begin a tentative romance, but the fears and questions about what will happen when Grace returns for her son, and what happened to Molly, are always there to haunt them.

I listened to North River on audiobook, and for the first fifteen minutes I thought this wasn’t the book for me. The story starts off with Delaney treating one of his mob buddies, and I assumed this would be a Godfather-type mafia book, which I’m not interested in. I was wrong. Hamill’s novel is about this man, this woman, and this child. It’s about learning to let go of the past. It’s about accepting the rotten deal life has handed you and living anyway. And it’s a wonderful and authentic love story, that shows love and attraction in all of its messy, complicated, delicious glory. I adored this book.

Hamill is a gifted wordsmith, and New York is one of the main characters in this novel. His descriptions of the neighborhoods, the people, Delaney’s patients – it is all done with just the right touch, just the right words to help you see what’s happening. I found myself rooting for Jim and Rose, wanting them to be given the happiness they deserve after all the years of pain. I listened to the last fifteen minutes in complete stillness, unfolded laundry forgotten, as I waited to find out their fate.

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22 Responses to Audiobook Review: North River by Pete Hamill

  1. Sandy
    Twitter: youvegottaread
    says:

    I bet this is one of those instances when the audio heightened the experience of the book. This is also a period of time that I thoroughly enjoy – so much turmoil and confusion and hard times.
    .-= Sandy´s last blog ..When Teachers Talk – Rosalyn S. Schnall =-.

  2. JoAnn
    Twitter: lakesidemusing
    says:

    This was one of my favorites of 2009. I’m so glad you loved it! It must have been great as an audio, too. I’ll be reading more Hamill this year, maybe Snow in August. Have you read any of his other books?
    .-= JoAnn´s last blog ..Wordless Wednesday =-.

  3. Serena (Savvy Verse & Wit)
    Twitter: SavvyVerseWit
    says:

    This sounds great. thanks for the review. This is the type of audiobook I enjoy
    .-= Serena (Savvy Verse & Wit)´s last blog ..Clover, Bee & Reverie: A Poetry Challenge =-.

  4. Wow, this sounds like one of those kind of books that can just draw you in. I like Depression-era stories, too, as my parents grew up during that time and I grew up hearing all about it. In a way, it’s a way I can connect with my mom (dad passed in 2004) and I can discuss what I’m reading with her. Thanks for this review :-)
    .-= The Kool-Aid Mom´s last blog ..She Is Too Fond of Books ~ The Kool-Aid Flavor of the Week =-.

  5. Kathy says:

    This sounds fabulous! The mob element would be a bonus for me. That fascinates me for some odd reason. Great review.
    .-= Kathy´s last blog ..Wondrous Words Wednesday =-.

  6. Vasilly
    Twitter: Vasilly
    says:

    Amazon has this book on sale and I was going to buy it, but changed my mind at the last minute. Now I know I need to get it. Wonderful review.
    .-= Vasilly´s last blog ..Sunday Salon: The Best YA Books You Haven’t Read =-.

  7. Wow! i have this book but haven’t read it yet…I’ll be bumping it up. (maybe, I keep saying that which basically means everything stays in the same spot)
    .-= Amy @ My Friend Amy´s last blog ..Forthcoming Historical Fiction I Can’t Wait to Read =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Amy – your comment cracked me up, because I say the same thing, with exactly the same results!

  8. nomadreader
    Twitter: nomadreader
    says:

    I really enjoy Pete Hamill’s journalism, but I’ve never read one of his novels. The cover of this book is gorgeous, and I already know he’s a wordsmith. I’m on a big historical fiction kick too. I’m so glad you loved this one!
    .-= nomadreader´s last blog ..book review: Scottsboro by Ellen Feldman =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Carrie – I’ve never read any of his non-fiction, but really want to read his memoir, A Drinking Life.

  9. stacybuckeye says:

    My mom loaned me this book a few months ago, but your review convinced me I need to read it!
    .-= stacybuckeye´s last blog ..Fave Film #87 – Pride & Prejudice =-.

  10. Rob says:

    I’m always on the look out for New York flavoured novels, and this is a new one on me Carrie. And how can one resist a novel in which, as you say, ‘New York is one of the main characters’? Superb!
    Warmest
    Rob
    .-= Rob´s last blog ..Weekly post round up =-.

  11. Susan says:

    Anyone know why Pete Hamill’s novels apparently have never been made into films? I can’t find any info.

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