Becca Cammeyer was once voted most likely to land a gig on Broadway or in jail for a good cause; now, years later, she finds herself living a life she could’ve never predicted. One consisting of a solo residency in a five-story walk-up with her aging dog, teetering on broke, with no friends or family to turn to— and to top it all off she still hears the ghost of her long-dead father whispering in her ear. However there is still one aspect of her life that sparks joy, and that is her job as a Greenwich Village tour guide extraordinaire! Following a tragic incident that strikes one of her tour groups, Becca embarks on a journey of introspection and heart-searching, with the historic streets of Greenwich Village to set the stage.
While this may sound like a riveting profile story of a NYC resident, it is actually the plot of Save the Village, the newest literary work published by the award-winning essayist and writer, Michele Herman.
“I’ve been a proud Villager since 1985, when my husband (then my boyfriend) and I moved from Morningside Heights to the West Village,” said Herman, “The novel is my homage to both the neighborhood itself and to Villagers.”
Although this is Herman’s first fiction novel, she is well versed in the genre due to her longstanding position as a fiction teacher, and in some respects, she believes this to be her second novel, since all the “action” and extensive cast of characters featured in the story are made up.
However, “just as a bird’s nest might be made of sticks and straw and dental floss,” bits and pieces of reality always find their way into a story, explained Herman, and in this case it manifests in the form of a character or their quirks.
One example of this was in the creation of her protagonist, Becca Cammeyer. Shortly after moving to the Village, Herman and her husband engaged in a “completely enthralled” walking tour with an “enthusiastic and knowledgeable” tour guide, she recounted. Not only did the memories from that experience find a home in her story, but so did aspects of the author’s own life— though the similarities, as Herman points out, are limited.
“Becca ended up with a couple of habits and traits that resemble my own – she has rules about how to do things and she has a good memory — but her life story couldn’t be more different from mine. She grew up in a Village tenement; I grew up in a Connecticut suburb and live in a converted warehouse. She’s single; I’ve been married forever.”
With an amalgamation of literary prowess amassed from years of writing essays or poems — that went on to be featured in The New York Times, The Sun and The Hudson Review— and as a self-proclaimed “student of Village history,” this novel was the natural next project for Herman. While it certainly was no easy endeavor, as many authors know, the hardest part of the story-writing process for Herman was keeping her “rear end in the chair every day” to type. Thankfully, though, there was one element of the process that provided her a bit of respite: the research.
Having lived in the Village for over several decades, Herman became familiar with every crack and pothole, and every park and dweller that inhabited her little hamlet. As a result, there was nary a situation or question in her story that she couldn’t answer herself— but when one did arise, the venturesome author took her rear end out into the streets to find the solution.
“I did have to learn about various disparate things to fill in the pieces,” she said. “How a person might build an explosive, what Mamaroneck is like, how soon the food in the freezer rots during a blackout. I called the precinct, I put my bike on the commuter train, I lived through Superstorm Sandy.”
When Herman set out to write this story, she sought to not only capture her love and admiration for the city, but also have it serve as its “preservation in story form”— and when the novel was released online and in bookstores in February 2022, it was met with rave reviews praising her elegant and accurate portrayal of the Village.
“Michele Herman has created a protagonist worthy of Grace Paley, and rendered her world with such intimacy you may think that you, too, once inhabited it. Save The Village is a paean to the energy and idiosyncrasies of New York City, and to those, who, against all odds, have staked their claim there,” wrote Sue Halpern, staff writer at The New Yorker.
“Michele Herman knows Greenwich Village inside out: its gestures, its codes, the complex history behind each building facade, smile, or frown. Every village is a universe, and Herman brings this one joyously alive. With compassion and humor, she tells a gripping tale of a rupture that shakes a community into a new Alignment,” said Pamela Erens, author of Matasha, Eleven Hours, and The Virgins.
When asked what she hoped the audience would take away from her novel, Herman responded, “I hope, first of all, that they enjoy the characters and scenarios I dreamed up. I hope they enjoy my sentences, because I’m a lover of lively sentences myself… I’m showing readers what life has been like in the Village from its early days as a country outpost of Wall Street up to nearly the present— the story zooms in on two Villagers who I hope live and breathe as believable individuals but who also are my representatives of the old bohemian guard and the yuppie newcomers.”
Save the Village is widely available online and in stock at the Strand— although Herman urges those interested in buying her novel to consider purchasing it directly from her independent publisher, Regal House, or asking for it at Three Lives & Company bookshop in the West Village.