By: Anthony E. Shaw
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Publication Date: November 2021
Reviewed by: Barbara Bamberger Scott
Stories of the varieties and vagaries of human life, some based in fact and all in enduring truth, are shared by New York City writer and thinker Anthony E. Shaw in his newest offering, A Gathering of Broken Mirrors.
Shaw is of Italian and Sicilian descent, and opens this vibrant collection with the story of his Uncle Del. As a child, he’d go to Del’s for “Sunday Gravy” – a rich meal brought from Naples spiced with garlic and basil, and always imbued with constant conversation. In this vignette we meet a man who had faced three career alternatives available for kids growing up in the Bronx in his era: “laborer, priest, or gangster.” Del chose the third and his memories included extortion, gambling, possibly even making someone disappear. He was often arrested and convicted, finally dying alone “in a hospital bed with the FBI by his side.” Like other characters depicted here, Del was an early influence on the author as Shaw developed his moral code. To gather the elements of that code, he respected family, played craps in deserted basements with his school pals, befriended Jewish, Irish, Black and Puerto Rican pals, and pondered such seminal events as the crash of two airplanes over Brooklyn in 1960 that resulted in many lives lost and the destruction of a church building that had hosted the Klan and preached against ethnic minorities.
Once Shaw found himself slipping into an inner conversation with a plain looking woman – a pickpocket - on a commuter train; with his Jewish mentor Yael he concluded that she was a demonic figure and that he had been mystically freed from her “spell.” He tells from her viewpoint, the revelations of a woman who realizes she has found her parents in spirit and no longer needs psychotherapy; and recalls family lore about a European gypsy woman who correctly predicted someone’s surprising future.
Shaw has a background in law enforcement, so readers can imagine that some of these 24 well-crafted portraits spring from his knowledge of the criminal mindset, ameliorated by his ability to step back from issues of simple right and wrong to pose meaningful questions from a more nuanced, at times religious, standpoint. Tales are told from varying viewpoints, and assigned dates, some real such as the airplane crash, others perhaps imaginary, but redolent of certain historical time-frames. The author recalls his shock and pursuant feelings when, at age 15, he learned of the John F. Kennedy assassination, looking at its meanings then and now. The most current story, dated 2020, is politically swathed; it concerns the assassination of a mayor trying to deliver a message of “income equality, racial awareness and community activism…to a starving city.”
Quill says: All of Shaw’s offerings are drenched in NYC lore and presence and will be appreciated by the city’s denizens – and by many others, since America’s affection for the spirit of that metropolis has been inculcated through film and unforgettable, timeless headlines.