Five-Finger Discount by Helene Stapinski
A Crooked Family History

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On a summer night when she was five years old, Helene Stapinski watched out her kitchen window as her Grandpa Beansie was carted off to jail for the last time. Beansie (so nicknamed because he had stolen a crate of beans as a child) had spent the better part of that day in the Majestic Tavern, a dive bar on the ground floor of the Stapinskisí apartment building. As the afternoon wore on, Beansie's usual ranting turned mean. He flashed a loaded gun; a silver .22 glowing in the light from the Yankee game on the tavern TV, and bragged to his drinking buddies that he had a bullet for each of his relatives living above the Majestic. But news traveled fast in the neighborhood, and before Beansie, a convicted murderer and armed robber, could stumble upstairs, the cops had him in handcuffs. The headline in the local newspaper the next day read "Man Seized On Way To Kill 5 Children". As Stapinski writes, Jersey City was a tough place to grow up, except I didn't know any better.

In this unforgettable memoir, Stapinski tells the heartbreaking yet often hilarious story of growing up among swindlers, bookies, and crooks. With deadpan humor and obvious affection, she comes clean with the outrageous tales that have swirled around her relatives for decades, and recounts the epic drama and comedy of living in a household in which petty crime was a way of life. The dinner Helene's mother put on the table (often prime rib, lobster tail, and fancy cakes) was usually swiped from the cold-storage company where Helene's father worked. The soap and toothpaste in the bathroom were lifted from the local Colgate factory. The books on the family's shelves were smuggled out of a book-binding company in Aunt Mary Ann's oversize girdle (or taken by Grandpa Beansie from the Free Public Library). Uncle Henry did a booming business as the neighborhood bookie, cousins did jail time, and Great-Aunt Katie, who liked to take a shot of whiskey each morning to clear her lungs, was a ward leader in the notorious Jersey City political machine.

No backdrop could be more appropriate for the Stapinskis than Jersey City; a place known for its ties to the Mafia, industrial blight, and corrupt local officials, and the author ingeniously weaves the checkered history of her hometown throughout the book. Navigating a childhood of toxic waste and tough love, Stapinski tells an extraordinary tale that, unlike the swag of her childhood, is her very own.

About Helene Stapinski

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Helene Stapinski began her career at her hometown newspaper, The Jersey Journal, and since then has written for The New York Times, New York magazine, and People, among other publications. She received her B.A. in journalism from New York University in 1987 and her M.F.A. from Columbia in 1995. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and son.
Published May 1, 2001 by Random House. 272 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Crime, Travel, Cooking. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Five-Finger Discount

The Guardian

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But combine Stapinski's prose, her family history and the criminal and political milieu of her native city, and you have a humdinger.

Jun 01 2002 | Read Full Review of Five-Finger Discount: A Crook...

Publishers Weekly

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""The night my grandfather tried to kill us, I was five years old, the age I stopped believing in Santa Claus, started kindergarten, and made real rather than imaginary friends."" This chatty and often engaging memoir of growing up among a rogue's gallery of tough characters may leave readers thi...

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Entertainment Weekly

This quirky memoir begins, quite literally, with a bang: ''The night my grandfather tried to kill us, I was five years old.'' Amid the toxic backdrop of Jersey City, the author's grandpa, who steals anything within his slippery reach, crowns a twisted family tree that includes characters such as ...

Mar 30 2001 | Read Full Review of Five-Finger Discount: A Crook...

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