The Passaic River Trilogy:
Three tales that take the reader through the noir corridors of violated innocence, abuse and murderous revenge
Father Divine's Bike (completed)
Four 14-year old boys, three white and one black, all denizens of 1945 Newark's tough and merciless Third Ward embark on a childish criminal escapade that ends tragically. Their target is a bike, not just any bike but a top of the line Schwinn, royalty forced into exile during four years of WWII rationing. The Schwinn is on the eighth floor of Bambergers, a huge fortress-like department store that was known for its ruthless prosecution of petty thieves. Ritchie Maxwell masterminds the heist and recruits two cohorts from St. Marks. Joey Bancik sheds his poverty driven self hatred to reveal his gift for shoplifting. Billy Spratlin escapes his family’s aging Victorian mansion to share in the fun. Marvin Davidson, an outsider from Morton Street Elementary, is the perfect shill, a black kid certain to attract and distract while the rest of the gang hauls the bike down seven flights of stairs.
The quartet’s strategy room is the rear booth of Milt’s Confectionery on Morton Street where more seasoned hoodlums dispense hard knock wisdom under Milt’s critical eye. Only Eight-Ten, a half-witted pornography collecting man child, instinctively recognizes inherent danger but his agonizing appeal to Father Terry Nolan, the assistant pastor at St. Marks, fails miserably. The young priest has his chance but blows it. Instead Father Nolan’s altar boys are seduced by the heaven on earth message of Father Divine, a black, bald, ever-smiling religious charlatan who hucksters hope for the hopeless. FATHER DIVINE’S BIKE is a provocative noir novel that takes the reader on a suspenseful, dark journey where there are no rules.
____ pages, ________ words
What fun! Very cinematic. If asked to compare “Father Divine’s Bike” to something, I would say E.L. Doctorow’s “Billy Bathgate” or “Ragtime.” The parts that really came alive for me were when the kids were playing stoop ball, and when they climbed up the fire escape on that building, when they were just running around the neighborhood being kids. I think the reason these stayed with me is that the camera was back up to capture the world they were in, the landscape, the buildings. I enjoyed seeing how the neighborhood was changing. How the buildings got sold. How the job of rent collection fell to thugs. How corruption colored everything.
Barb Johnson, author of “More of This World or Maybe Another and winner of American Library Association’s Barbara Gittings Literature Award.”
Veteran television journalist Steve Bassett puts his considerable storytelling skills to work in “Father Divine’s Bike,” a tragic coming of age saga involving three white Catholic altar boys, and a black neighborhood kid. They set their sights on stealing a Schwinn bicycle from the top floor of an eight story department store. They carry out the plot with the aplomb of a Charles Dickens’ shoplifter. From there Bassett weaves a story of triumph, regret and tragedy. The boys’ Catholic roots fail them in their time of need. Instead they are unwittingly seduced by the aura spread throughout Newark by Father Divine, the spellbinding black evangelist. It’s a book you won’t want to put down.
Pete Noyes, award winning journalist and author of “The Real L.A. Confidential”
Steve Bassett has created a picture of an era so that you can see, hear, smell and taste it. Bassett has done a great job of creating and maintaining tension. The dialogue is masterful, using just the right words, just the right grammar for each of the characters. He really knows those voices. It rang very true how he handled a child’s perspective of his mother’s affair. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered that in literature before. The book is wonderful for its frank, matter-of-fact treatment of race and class issues, and for the wonderful community of characters the author has created from all levels of society.
Mary Johnson, author of “An Unquenchable Thirst,” a memoir of her twenty years as a personal assistant to Mother Theresa.
Father Divine’s Bike carries you along the well orchestrated plot of Bassett’s protagonist, Richie Maxwell. In voicings of character and place, Maxwell takes you along on his quest to obtain the promise of “heaven on earth.” In rhythm and tone Bassett achieves a counterpoint that moves the reader between contrasting themes of class and privilege, poverty and wealth, despair and hope. Caught up by the hustle of Father Divine’s “heaven on earth,” Richie Maxwell becomes ensnared in a hustle of his own making that transports him to a reality just north of hell, on a bike that costs more than he could ever imagine.
Paul Pattwell, Library Administrator, Newark Public Library, former manager of the New Jersey Information Center, an archive for Newark and New Jersey history.
I have finally settled into reading his novel and I love it!!! I am enjoying it so. I love the milieu, the dialogue, the characters, the story, everything. I can't wait to finish it and pass it on to my husband who will love it as well. He may even recognize some of the characters from hearing his father's and grandfather's stories of growing up poor in Philadelphia, which wasn't all that different from Newark. I love Steve's style and I find it very readable and very, very cinematic. Has he given thought to rewriting it as a screenplay. I really think it would make a great film!!!
Marsha Pincus, retired Philadelphia Public School teacher and writer.
Passaic Payback: Sequel to Father Divine (in development)
Steve Bassett's World