Judith Glynn connected with me on Facebook via Twitter after seeing there that I'd attended a panel at The Big Book Getaway that included Dr. Skip Sviokla who reviewed her book. I love social media and the connections it can create.
From the publisher: A sidewalk hello between two diverse women in a New York City neighborhood begins an inspiring story about redemption over evil. Michelle Browning is 33, drunk and a former beauty queen who nears death after six years of homelessness. Judith Glynn is divorced with grown children and struggles to support herself in her adopted city. After their first hello, neither woman is the same as they embark on a remarkable journey over the next two years.It sounds like a do-gooder, co-dependent story, right? But it's not. Its part mystery really, a mystery of the heart. Why do we instantly connect with some people and not with others, ever, even when we want to have a connection with a particular person?
The Street or Me: A New York Story graphically depicts the homeless subculture as Judith sets out all alone to rescue Michelle. It's about one woman determined to return dignity to another woman's life. But is Judith's fixation worth the sacrifice to involve her family with Michelle? This book exposes the personal destruction caused by alcoholism and demolished dreams. It's a raw and enlightening read where, at times, Judith despises Michelle and her obsession to save her. At stake is whether Michelle will choose street life and possible death in a gutter over Judith's guiding light back into society.
It's also part horror story, the horror of a hopeless case of alcoholism and the resulting homelessness. Glynn shares just enough of Michelle's life experience and what her daily existence was like on the streets (the beatings, the rapes, the stench, the body lice, the freezing cold, the zombie-like state of late-stage alcoholism) to get the horrors of this life across while still showing the spark of a vibrant human still alive within the shell of the person the young woman had become.
And if you're an alcoholic, it's a whammy of a horror story. If you're in recovery, this book will scare you and remind you why it's so important to keep working your program, whatever your program may be. If you suspect you're an alcoholic and this book doesn't scare you, guess what? You're probably in denial if you think, "that will never happen to me." No one ever thinks it'll happen to them. But I digress.
Glynn gets wrapped up in Michelle's life to the point of endangering her own life, yet she does maintain the boundary of not letting Michelle into her home. Surprisingly, even when Michelle eventually has Glynn's phone number, she doesn't abuse it. Also surprising is the amount of money Michelle had, money that came in monthly, which is ironic because at the time Glynn was a recently divorced mother of four from Rhode Island trying to make it on her own in New York as a writer, paying the bills through temp work.
Michelle was a former Italian beauty queen who came to the states to be a model. She ended up marrying another alcoholic and together they went downhill from middle class respectability in Texas to years living on the street in New York City (Hell's Kitchen, to be precise, in the late 1980s). Glynn's quest becomes not just about convincing Michelle to get off the streets, but to get her back home to her family in Italy.
This is a quick read, but not an easy one. Is there a happy ending? Yes and no. But its real, that's for sure, not sugar coated, but also not gratuitous in its grittiness. I highly recommend this book to memoir readers and those interested in issues of alcoholism and homelessness.
The Street or Me: A New York Story
Fox Point Press, 2014
Source: review copy provided by author.