Page 45 Review by Stephen
"You were right, Albie. Dropsie Avenue as we knew it is gone. Only the memory of how it was for us remains. In the end buildings are only buildings. But people make a neighbourhood."
One of my three favourite Eisner books along with TO THE HEART OF THE STORM and NAME OF THE GAME in which Will Eisner condenses generations of intricately linked family lives and their evolving environment into 170 pages without sacrificing even a fraction of the intimacy and humanity that is Eisner's hallmark. It is, if you like, the life cycle of a community with its fluctuating fortunes from an open arable land farmed by two feuding families through early, spacious gentrification to the rise of the tenement buildings housing a wealth of ethnic immigrants, then their decline and fall into strip-mined ruin. Prohibition is the first nail in the community's coffin, extortion leaching business' rent money dry whilst setting the worst possible example to the children and making a violent example of those who refuse to comply. Then there's the cunning of more legal profiteers luring the chief town planner into debt - their debt - to get what they want, but most saddening of all is that each successive influx of English, Irish, Italian, Jewish, Black or Hispanic migrants are viewed with disdain and disgust as "foreigners" by the previous generation of 'foreigners' without any sense of perspective or acknowlegement of the benefits most waves bring. Amongst the tensions and outright hostility, however, there are some with a kinder heart and a certain self-awareness, the rabbi and Catholic priest delighting in their first inter-faith marriage and pulling together to form an early youth group.
I read DROPSIE AVENUE again this week with just as much joy as I did in 1995. Some of it is a little fanciful, like the burglar straying into the last living garden only to be charmed by its owner's granddaughter who is, quite frankly, away with the fairies, but even that has its charm. Most of this, however, is an unflinching account of the ruthless, self-centred commerce which dictates how a whole neighbourhood lives - or struggles and dies in poverty - told with more than a passing knowledge of how real estate works. The figurework is as expressively theatrical as in any of Eisner's books, whilst the buildings themselves in their various generations have a lifespan of their own which mirrors their inhabitants'. It is, in the end, like all Eisner's works, about how we treat each other as human beings - rarely as well as we'd like to be treated ourselves.