Review: A list of things that didn't kill me, Jason Schmidt

A List of Things That Didn't Kill MeA List of Things That Didn't Kill Me by Jason Schmidt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jason was a student in one of my creative writing classes in 1998, and I can say without reservation that he is the most talented undergraduate I ever worked with. I have followed his writing ever since — through his (now defunct, and much missed) weblog, short stories, a beautifully written novel, and finally this memoir.

There are very basic things children should be able to take for granted, whether rich or poor: food, someplace to sleep, a watchful and nurturing adult. Kids who don't have those things have to fight every day to survive on the fringe, and harder still, to move beyond the experiences that shaped them. The only weapons available are the ones they can find within themselves. A person who fights that very long and difficult battle and comes out a whole human being has grown a kind of armor. The problem is that you can't make other people understand that journey unless you're able and willing to take off that armor and let them see the scars. Jason did that, but a careful reader will come away with more than an understanding of how he survived.

There are thousands of kids out there right now who are experiencing life the way Jason did. Too many of them won't survive, or will come into adulthood unable to do anything else but follow the pattern they've internalized. After reading this memoir it will be harder for the more fortunate not to see those kids. And that's exactly as it should be.

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Medical mystery: Quadruplets, 1867

I'd call this a writing prompt. This item is from the summer 1867 issue of the Richmond Medical Journal. It's quite sober in tone for something so sensational: quadruplets, identical (as there was only one placenta), and they were all boys. Five pounds each and healthy at birth.

quadrulets 1867

I had a quick look but couldn't find any mention of these quadruplets in any of the lists of multiple births online. It might never have come to the attention of the list-makers, I suppose. But it's odd.

Crime, Poverty and Childhood in Manhattan 1883

When I'm reading for background and research I make note of addresses I come across.  Patterns crop up, as you'll see in this section of an 1883 map.  I found newspaper reports of crimes and police raids as was to be expected, given the fact that this neighborhood encompasses  Mulberry Bend, made famous by Jacob Riis's photography documenting the squalid living conditions available to new immigrants. Opium dens mentioned in the papers in 1883 (the ones I found, at any rate) are marked here in blue ovals; red stars indicate brothels or tenements occupied by prostitutes.  Just a block and a half west of the infamous Chatham Square you'll see the Grand Duke's Theater at 21 Baxter.

atlas-1885-plate-4-opiumThe Grand Duke's Theater was attached to a stale beer joint, one of the lowest of the low taverns that sold the dregs from beer barrels, and were frequented primarily by the children who lived on the street and cobbled together a living by selling papers or flowers, shining shoes, running errands and petty larceny.

It used to be a familiar sight to see the saloons of Baxter, Mott and Mulberry streets filled with these [homeless] boys. It was only a few years ago that they had their own theatre,  "The Grand Duke's Theatre," at 21 Baxter street, in the cellar under a stale beer dive, where really clever performances were given of an imitative character, by a company of boys; and which, by the way, was the only theatre which for years defied the efforts of the authorities to collect the license. The admission fee was ten cents, and curiosity seekers came from all parts of the city to witness the really laughable and, in many cases, meritorious character-sketches given within its damp walls. It was subsequently broken up by the police.

This paragraph is from a book by William Howe and Abraham Hummel, two criminal lawyers who dealt in sensationalism and high fees. They called their little book (1885)  Danger! A True History of a Great City's Wiles and Temptations. The Veil Lifted, and Light Thrown on Crime and its Causes, and Criminals and their Haunts. Facts and Disclosures.

Note the casual disdain  for the children, and worse, the way their survival is trivialized. No mention of disease or child prostitution,  maybe because they thought too much truth would be bad for sales.  In 1887 The Grand Duke's Theater came down, according to the New York Times, to make room for a tenement. They provide a more sober short history:

NYT 28 July 1887


Bonner / Savard Family Tree and The Gilded Hour

The purpose of this family tree is to establish the relationship between two of the primary characters in The Gilded Hour: Liliane (Anna) Savard and Sophie Elodie Savard, both orphaned as children and raised together in their Aunt Quinlan's Manhattan home.

It also gives you an idea of what Nathaniel's offspring have been doing since you saw them last. You'll run into a few of them in the new novel, but briefly.

Click to see the full size image.

Bonner/Savard Genealogy
Bonner/Savard Genealogy
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