Cover image for I don't want to go to jail : a good novel
I don't want to go to jail : a good novel
Breslin, Jimmy.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Boston : Little, Brown, 2001.
Physical Description:
306 pages ; 25 cm
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Returning to territory that made him a best-selling author, Jimmy Breslin gives us a brilliant, comic novel about the downfall of the modern Mob. At the center of this book are three men named Dellacava. The first is Fausti "The FisT" Dellacava, the most powerful & feared of all Mafia bosses, whose very name his associates are forbidden to utter unless they prefer to die. For years, the Cave was the most famous actor in New York, shuffling around the city in pajamas & bathrobe, taking Thorazine, & mumbling & drooling in a vain attempt to be declared mentally incompetent to stand trial for his many serious crimes. The second is his brother, the priest Father Phil Dellacava, who has had three ambitions in life. The first was to make Bishop, which was thwarted by a double crossing churchman. The second was to be a big time politician, which was thwarted by the Pope who decreed that priests couldn't hold public office. And the third was to step into his brother's shoes. The last Dellacava is the Cave's nephew Fausti, who only wants to eat well, convince a skeptical world that he deserves a legitimate job, & marry his demanding girl friend Concetta. It is the innocent Vinnie who inadvertently sets in motion the downfall of his uncle. Mixing fact & fancy as only Jimmy Breslin can, this is a vintage performance from one of our most celebrated writers who clearly shows he hasn't lost his chops.

Author Notes

Jimmy Breslin was born James Earle Breslin on October 17, 1928 in Queens, New York. In the late 1940's, The Long Island Press hired him as a copy boy. After getting a job as a sportswriter for The New York Journal-American, he wrote a book about the first season of the Mets entitled Can't Anybody Here Play This Game? This book led to him being hired as a news columnist for The New York Herald Tribune in 1963. He later wrote for The New York Post, The Daily News, New York Newsday, and New York magazine.

He wrote both fiction and nonfiction books. His novels included The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight; World Without End, Amen; and Table Money. His nonfiction books included The Good Rat, The Short Sweet Dream of Eduardo Gutierrez, I Want to Thank My Brain for Remembering Me, The Church That Forgot Christ, and biographies of Damon Runyon and Branch Rickey. He died on March 19, 2017 at the age of 88.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Readers who remember Breslin's first Mafia novel, The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight (1969), will want to check out the New York columnist's fictional take on the Mob's last days. New Yorkers and Mafia mavens will know where Breslin is headed once they discover that his capoFausti ("the Fist") Dellacava--spends much of the book dressed in pajamas and robe, gulping Thorazine. The Fist's clubhouse bears the label "Concerned Lutherans." It's in the basement of a Sullivan Street tenement in Greenwich Village. Young Fausti--the Fist's nephew--grows up down the street, watching the extended family his uncle rules. By the time the younger man is old enough to take on a straight job and marry his childhood sweetheart, the name he shares with his uncle gets in his way. He makes a few bucks as the anonymous source of the wise-guy profiles on Mob Stars trading cards, but it's obvious that an era is drawing to a close. The feds are getting too good at sending bosses off to jail, and the yuppies are taking over the neighborhood. No one would call Breslin a master plotter; his structure is anecdotal, and his tone is conversational. Perhaps his latest novel is best viewed as a comic requiem for yet another industry that can't keep up on the information superhighway. --Mary Carroll

Publisher's Weekly Review

Breslin's literary ties to the mob go back to the days when he was churning out award-winning columns and bestselling novels (The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight), although he falls short of that level of excellence in this rambling, episodic novel about an aging Mafia boss whose nephew opts for a straight life. Fausti "The Fist" Dellacava is a gangster's gangster, an old school tough guy and a tyrant who uses his Mafia power to indulge a variety of whims, such as forbidding anyone on the street to refer to him by name: "Just look up quickly, as if searching a rock ceiling, when you mean The Fist." But his nephew and namesake is cut from a different cloth: when the younger Fausti decides that the threat of jail is a steep price to pay for a mobster's life of leisure, he tries his luck in the real world with decidedly mixed results. The bulk of the novel tracks the Fist's decline and demise in parallel with his nephew's efforts to establish himself beyond the Mob but the book's real raison d'ˆtre is to give the audacious Breslin an opportunity to tell nonstop stories about the Mafia. He's at his best when he goes for laughs, particularly in the material involving Mafia trading cards, a mob priest named Father Phil and a vicious German shepherd named Malocchio, whose choice of victims inadvertently reflects the bigotry of his twisted owners. The lack of narrative structure makes this book a sticky read, but Breslin knows his subject and provides enough entertainment to justify wading through the slow spots. (May 23) Forecast: Ads in major national publications and the Sopranos-fueled Mafia mania should get the book some attention, but it will probably sell mostly to die-hard Breslin fans. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One You would never think that Greenwich Village, whose streets are famed for palette and pen, would be the home of the nation's biggest and most dangerous Mafia outfit. The Village daylight is an artist's assistant. Perhaps it is the metallic content of the old buildings that causes a reflection seen nowhere else in the city. Unlike so many other parts of New York, the Village sky has not yet been stolen. Stand on a Greenwich Village street in the early morning and see the night sky lighten and break into streaks of rose, and you envision life with an unclouded eye. The light and the artists using it made the Village famous, and deflected attention from a criminal mob that was started by Lucky Luciano and went through homicidal maniacs like Albert Anastasia and Caesar De Francisi and into the hands of the silent, deadly Fausti Dellacava, or The Fist. The tenement streets of the Dellacavas' end at Washington Square park, where the sun glistens on the park's white marble arch -- 77 feet high, 30 feet wide, and built in 1895 at a cost of $128.000, which at the time was enough to buy the Ukraine. Rosetta Dellacava and Gina Lauretano used to take their infants in carriages to the park and sit on benches alongside the arch as the children slept. Little Fausti was in one carriage. In the other was Concetta Lauretano. The two were never to get much farther apart. The arch stands over the first signpost of Fifth Avenue, which begins its long stroll northward through the city's splendor. In the park around the monument, sunlight splashing onto lawns between walks turned the grass blinding green. This glory is tarnished immediately by the history of the pin oaks, oriental planes, yellow locusts, ash, and American elm trees in the park that once were used as gallows, and people thronged to the park to see men swing for such heinous crimes as burglary, pickpocketing, and skin color. The Village that became famous to America was formed by three migrations, the Italians first, then a second from the west of Ireland, and the third, Americans calling themselves bohemians. Into the narrow crooked streets of Greenwich Village, alleys really, came artists, philosophers, poets, writers, loungers, and air inspectors. Washington Square is lined by buildings of New York University, many of them two-story Greek Revivals. The Greek Revivals form the north side of the park. On the east side is a bronze statue of Garibaldi, donated by the Italians of New York in 1888. On the ground floor of 100 Washington Square East is the Museum of Living Art, with Picasso's The Three Musicians, Léger's The City, and Mondrian's Composition in White and Red. And there is a large, ugly NYU building, with a painful history: Sing Sing Prison convicts were used to cut the stones. On the east side of the square, number 22 Washington Place, now college buildings, was the address of a building that was hailed as completely fireproof in 1911. It housed the Triangle Shirtwaist factory on the eighth through tenth floors. One Saturday, thin paper hanging over blouse-making machines caught fire on the eighth floor. One hundred and twenty-six women and twenty men between the ages of thirteen and twenty-one were locked inside the factory to prevent them from leaving during the day's work. A sign on the wall read "If you don't come to work on Sunday, don't come on Monday." The fire then moved to the ninth-floor workroom, and the lint in the air exploded. Women in flames began jumping from the windows. Some leaped into the elevator shaft and landed on the roofs of two small elevators. The bodies of young women slammed with the force of steel atop the elevators, driving the elevators into the basement, where they remained immobile. As the fire engines had no ladder that could go over seven stories, all the young women on the higher floors jumped from the windows. Three held hands and leaped into the sky together. All these young women hitting the sidewalk caused a famous lead in the World newspaper: Thud, Dead. Thud, Dead. Thud, Dead. At Madame Blanchard's Rooming House, number 61 Washington Square South, the roomers at various times included Theodore Dreiser, Adelina Patti, Frank Norris, Stephen Crane, Willa Cather, John Dos Passos, James Oppenheim, Henri Matisse, René Dubos, and Alan Seeger. The Village is where Henry James wrote Washington Square, Washington Irving wrote "Legend of Sleepy Hollow," and Edgar Allan Poe wrote "The Fall of the House of Usher." Around at 133 MacDougal Street, there were Eugene O'Neill and Edna St. Vincent Millay. John Masefield scrubbed floors in Luke O'Connor's barroom up on Greenwich Avenue. Once, in the NYU buildings, faculty member Morse experimented with telegraphy. Walt Whitman was in an upstairs room. This was more than well balanced by another faculty member, Samuel Colt, who perfected a revolver to shoot people. They call it the gun that won the West, but it came from two blocks off the West 4th Street subway. When The Fist took over the streets only yards away from Colt's old housing, he decreed, which is the right word, that anybody caught with a gun on the block would be summarily executed. "A gun proves you got bad intentions." One of which could be to shoot The Fist. Anybody leaving his gun in his car, under the seat or in the glove compartment, also dies. In other places they talk of gun control. On The Fist's street at all times there is nothing to control because there is no gun or there is no you. The streets of Dellacava began as a black neighborhood. In 1860, number 218 Sullivan Street was the First African ME church. By 1879, it became the Colored Bethel church. The buildings were called tenements, with rooms no larger than packing cases. There were six and seven people in two small bedrooms, with a bathroom for the floor in the hall and a tub in the kitchen. The blacks held the buildings for only so long. In the annals of the city, blacks arrive, whites flee. Except in this succession, Italian immigrants took Sullivan and Thompson streets, with Lutherans slipping into two buildings, and the Italians said they were theirs forever. If you don't like it, then watch out. Exit Lutherans. The Village, however, was worthy of its beginnings by the way bohemians were able to live and grow famous amidst Irish and Italians, the breeds most suspicious of outsiders, and capable at any odd moment of exploding into uncommon violence. Italians were comfortable with bohemians because they had less money and did not protest. Poor people rise in fury at any worthwhile protest. Always, the striker is despised. The Irish living along the West Side docks were too naïve to believe that two men would share a room for any reason except to save rent. As for two middle-aged women living together, it was unthinkable, it was desperately sinful, for anybody to have a trace of suspicion of them being lesbians, about which the Irish knew nothing. Copyright © 2001 Jimmy Breslin. All rights reserved.