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A Song for Mary
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In an author's note, Smith, best known for Report from Engine Co. 82, states that this isn't a novel‘although it reads like one. Smith grew up poor on Manhattan's East Side in the postwar years, in the Kips Bay neighborhood, where Italians were "guineas" and blacks "coloreds" and Sister Maureen's word was law. As the book opens, he is seven, living in a tenement with his mother, Mary, and his brother. They are on welfare. His mother moonlights as a charwoman while his father lies in a hospital, his legs useless after a mysterious accident. Smith is a gentle, religious boy who can be as obstinate as a terrier. Resentment and heartbreak surface when he learns that his father, whom he has never seen, isn't in the hospital after all but in a mental institution, and that this terrible secret‘like that of being on welfare‘must remain in the family. As he grows older, Smith starts smoking and drinking, drops out of high school, moves along to pot and then to heroin. A brush with the law lands him in the Air Force. After he leaves the service, he works as a cowboy in the West, but he is still drifting. He returns east, where his mother, toiling at the phone company, leads by example and he follows, into the FDNY, for which he puts out fires in a South Bronx teeming with poor people on welfare. Smith has come full circle and the irony is not lost on him. In this life-affirming reminiscence, the author thanks, through beautiful words, his mother for all her sacrifice, God for giving him a second chance and "a city that paid the rent and put an egg on the table for us when we needed it." BOMC alternate; Reader's Digest Condensed Book; Time Warner audio. (Jan.)

Smith came of age in a poor, fatherless Irish Catholic family living in the New York tenements of East 56th Street. Readers will have a hard time putting down this tribute to his mother, Mary. We travel with young Dennis from his first experiences in Catholic school, cleaning erasers and feeling the unjust whacks of disciplinary rulers, to the frightening escapades of the teenage dropout who takes up with bad company. On the verge of felony, Smith joins the Air Force and then works as a cowboy before returning to New York. Unlike Malachy McCourt (A Monk Swimming, LJ 4/1/98), Smith doesn't revel in his misdeeds but always hears his mother's voice in the back of his mind. He finds his way into a profession to which he can give his all, serving as a New York fireman; he is the author of nine other works, many of them about firefighting, including Report from Engine Co. 82 (LJ 2/1/72). Highly recommended.‘Nancy Shires, East Carolina Univ., Greenville, NC

"BRIGHT AND IMMEDIATE AND RICH, WITH HEARTBREAKINGLY HONEST DETAIL...SOME OF IT IS WONDERFULLY FUNNY, AND SOME OF IT IS POWERFUL, AND ALL OF IT IS ABSOLUTELY RIGHT AND TRUE....A SONG FOR MARY WILL BE AS VIVID AND VALUABLE TOMORROW AS IT IS TODAY".

-- Washington Post Book World

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