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Ever since I moved to New York, I've been dying to find a novel that sets this wonderful city in its pages. While I loved, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, I doubt Canarsie is just as Betty Smith's characters left it. Then I was given a copy of The Ballad of West Tenth Street and while it doesn't scream "New York" the way a loud production of Guys and Dolls does, I fell in love with its eclectic cast of characters, their neuroses and nuances. I wanted to move in next door. The story begins with a camera-like lens on a row of townhouses in "the Village," near Bleecker Street to be exact. (Hey! I lived there for about a month!) In one home lives the widow of a British ex-rocker, who has died of a drug overdose, along with her precious children Deen (a girl) and Hamish (boy). The children's piano teacher is a slightly unbalanced musical genius, but he's nothing compared to his young wife. Then there is the Colonel next door whose tea time activities bring the unlikeliest group of people together: the neighbor children, his interior decorator and a Southern handyman. But my favorite has to be Cap'n Meat, a homeless man who (along with his cat) befriends the Hollander children and through whom author Marjorie Kernan provides her most acute picture of the city. Other kernels of truth are sprinkled through the narrative, as the camera lens pans the wide swath around West 10th and the narrative voice is wise in its own way: "New Yorkers are so wary of personal contact with potentially troublesome or even deadly neighbors that they carry this fear into every corner of their lives. They don't speak to strangers, cut off chats with shopkeepers, avoid making eye contact with that man in the next building, who they see each morning." While Kernan couldn't have captured city life better, many times I have been standing on a street corner with a lost look in my face only to be asked, "Where are you trying to go?" I had a quick conversation with the couple I was squished up against on the 1 train this morning (about the train schedule, but still...) And the Hollander children befriend an emotionally taxed veteran who sleeps on the streets. That is the irony of this city. Through her wonderful characters, and with her camera-like narrative style, Kernan captures it all so well. I loved this book.