Joey El Bueno is an 82-year-old patient recovering in Bellevue
Hospital in New York on Christmas Eve. A writer and former
screenwriter, Joey is working on his memoir under the watchful eye
of Nurse Rose Ellen Bloor.
His story opens in New York City in 1941, where he’s a
smart-mouthed seventh grader at St. Stephen’s School. Joey is
a child of sacrifice. He has never known a mother’s love
because his mom, Eileen, died in childbirth. His father, Pop, is
shamelessly and utterly devoted to the boy. Pop is an immigrant who
speaks broken English, makes a living doing back-bending work, and
does without so Joey can have a better life.
St. Stephen’s is where Joey first meets Jane Bent,
“this real pretty girl with reddish hair…in pigtails
with green-and-yellow smiley-face barrettes at the ends.”
From the moment they see each other, Jane tells Joey details only
he should know, and she knows some things about him even he
doesn’t know. After their first encounter, Jane disappears.
Joey asks about her, but no one else has seen her, except a
classmate who claims he saw her levitate six feet off the floor at
a movie theater.
When Jane finally returns, she looks different and another age.
Who is Jane Bent? Is she real, is she crazy, or is Joey crazy
himself? During one visit, Jane claims she is on a secret Christmas
quest. She buys him dinner, talks about how prayer builds up grace,
and reminds him of the importance of confession, trust and
As the end of Joey's life draws near, the past floats to the
surface of his memory: the movies and radio programs he and his
father enjoyed, the sacrifices his father made for him, scrapes
with his childhood friends, his Catholic school education at the
hands of the Jesuits, his life in Hollywood and his return to the
East Coast. With Christmas hours away --- through his stream of
consciousness, and sometimes unconsciousness --- Joey reflects on
his regrets and missteps, along with his moments of kindness and
Interrupting his reverie is Rose Ellen Bloor, a self-assured
nurse who wears stiletto heels and tells Joey about her dream of
writing a screenplay about Adolph Hitler. She asks for his help
because she isn’t sure of the all technical stuff ---
CRAZY, with its wildly creative and humorous scenarios, is wise
and witty, funny and sad. Through Joey’s story, William Peter
Blatty’s unflinching prose questions the meaning of life.
It’s a story of good and evil, of second chances, of coming
to peace at the end of the road and welcoming the unknown. Just as
Joey takes a tangled trip down memory lane, reflecting and
deflecting and detouring to figure out the mystery of Jane,
following him on his serpentine journey is worth the trip. In the
end, Joey’s story makes sense --- and it gives a sense of
promise and hope.
Reviewed by Donna Volkenannt (firstname.lastname@example.org) on January 12, 2011