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Bitter Bronx: Thirteen Stories Hardcover – June 1, 2015
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“A borough native wrestles with con men, gangsters and the biggest villain of all―Robert Moses…. One is left with no doubt that Jerome Charyn’s shriek, his war cry, his own peculiar music, was born [in the Bronx].” (Abraham Socher - Wall Street Journal)
“[Jerome Charyn] is to the Bronx what Saul Bellow, early in his career, was to Upper Broadway―bard, celebrant, mythologizer.” (Jonathan Yardley - Washington Post)
“Sharp-edged short stories…Charyn’s narrative sleight of hand is wonderfully at play…. Despite the hard edges, and there are many, a rich sweetness flows just below the surface of Bitter Bronx.” (Wendell Jamieson - New York Times Book Review)
“It is no small achievement to be the Babel of the Bronx.” (Leslie Epstein - New York Times Book Review)
“[T]here are certain constants in Charyn’s work: an energetic, urbane prose, a playful approach to narrative, a fascination with history, and a downbeat, noir-ish perspective. This fatalistic outlook coexists comfortably with the ebullient verve and propulsion of his prose…. Whether writing about Yiddish theatre or silent film or movie palaces or old Bronx neighborhoods, Charyn is the curator, celebrant, and mourner of lost worlds…. The prose impresses with its accumulation of apt details, fresh diction, and serpentine syntax…. Is Charyn truly a romantic or a trickster? Hard to say on the basis of these entertaining stories: probably both. They are written with confidence, fluidity, mischievous aplomb, and a lifetime’s worth of acquired literary skill. A light ironic touch peeps through these tales of doomed passion, as though the septuagenarian Charyn were mocking his own former searching for a movie-type love, his previous ‘constant adolescence’ of hungering for dream women.” (Phillip Lopate - New York Review of Books)
“In this collection of stories, Charyn’s characters leave blighted streets only to boomerang back to a part of New York ‘in permanent recession.’ With echoes of Walt Whitman’s fantastical city and the hard-broiled territory of Mickey Spillane, Bitter Bronx elevates the borough’s stoops and sidewalks into the realm of myth.” (O Magazine)
“Jerome Charyn is one of the most important writers in American literature.” (Michael Chabon)
“Jerome Charyn is merely one of our finest writers, with a polymorphous imagination and crack comic timing. Whatever milieu he chooses to inhabit, his characters sizzle with life, and his sentences are pure vernacular music, his voice unmistakable.” (Jonathan Lethem)
“Memories and imagination mingle to particularly edgy and bewitching effect in [Charyn’s] Bronx fables, which echo the Jewish gangster stories in The Odessa Tales by Isaac Babel…. Charyn’s dark, sexy, droll, and lacerating urban folktales of gangster tyranny, thwarted desire, and desperate measures are wizardly and bittersweet.” (Donna Seaman - Booklist, Starred review)
“Charyn, like Nabokov, is that most fiendish sort of writer―so seductive as to beg imitation, so singular as to make imitation impossible.” (Tom Bissell)
“Jerome Charyn's Bronx is a landscape of magic and passion. With…American yearning and a stage full of unforgettable characters.” (BookPage)
“Grifters, gangs, vamps, and lost souls pursue gritty lives in ‘the brick wilderness of the Bronx’ in this collection of tales by a veteran storyteller and native of the New York borough…. Charyn's staccato style is full of jolts, surprising observations, and turns of phrase. It works well with the rough struggle for survival and success….” (Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review)
“Tough on the outside but tender at heart, the 13 stories in this volume serve as a nostalgic elegy to the Bronx of the past…. Mixing equal parts grit and charm, there’s no need to have set foot in the Bronx to enjoy these stories.” (Publishers Weekly)
“With an almost breathless style, Charyn gives readers compelling characters who are restless, reckless and desperate…. Every single tale here is short, brutal, harrowing, heartbreaking, mesmerizing and altogether unforgettable.” (Sarah Rachel Egelman - Bookreporter.com)
“Charyn constructs hella work, powerful images in condensed language. While some stories are set in the near or distant past, others feel timeless to the point of taking place just yesterday.” (Douglas Lord - Library Journal)
About the Author
Jerome Charyn's stories have appeared in The Atlantic, Paris Review, American Scholar, Epoch, Narrative, Ellery Queen, and other magazines. His most recent novel is I Am Abraham. He lived for many years in Paris and currently resides in Manhattan.
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Top Customer Reviews
One of the most distinctive traits of Charyn's writing is how he uses language. In his interview regarding his novel Johnny One-eye on my blog, Ascroft, eh? he said that he grew up in the Bronx having no language. He had no idea newspapers such as the New York Times existed. His friendship with several librarians in a South Bronx library introduced him to the world of words and literature. From these early encounters, he developed a love of words, which fostered his own unique writing style. Often his prose seems to ramble along, tumbling together his characters' thoughts as well as the unfolding action. His descriptions of people and places are vivid, aided by unusual metaphors and ornate language.
Characters and settings seem to interest Charyn more than the plot of the story. His characters are always unusual, often beguiling but with dark currents never too far beneath the surface. They are diverse, each with a unique, captivating voice. Like other aspects of his work, his characters are rarely straightforward. They are complex, motivated by a plethora of values and desires that often war with each other. They are also duplicitous with each other and the reader, leaving the reader wondering what to believe in the narrative.
Place is important in Charyn's writing and nowhere more so than in this collection of stories. Set in the Bronx, these stories are conjured from the writer's memories of his boyhood home and, no doubt, this helps to bring the place to life. The stories are mainly set in 1940s gangster run New York City, a world of violence and opulence with a moral code all its own. They evoke this place and time vividly and fondly. Despite the brutality of the criminal underworld, it is a place of lavish excess and vitality. The place and the people are larger than life.
In my interview with Charyn regarding Johnny One-eye, he said, "Fiction often has a greater truth than most historical texts...Novelists see history as story. We're not burdened by `inaccuracies'." I think this is how the reader should approach Charyn's short story collection: suspend disbelief and enjoy the language that spills onto the page and the world the author creates. Charyn's writing style may not appeal to every reader but it is worth giving it a try to discover the delights of his stories.
Note: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
Charyn’s stories bring you to a “mecca of middle-class Jews,” “Mafioso restaurants”, and up to the Grand Concourse. A grifter gigolo named Howell is surprised to find love in Lorelei. Another gigolo whose modeling name was Adonis is good at dining widows. The kids at Music and Art had a cockroach who writes poetry and a companion, alley cat, who thought she was Cleopatra. They are named Archy and Mehitabel. Then there’s the bisexual in The Cat Lady’s Kiss. My favorite stories were the three stories about the Silk family: Silk & Silk, Little Sister, and Marla. The reader gets drawn into this melodramatic soap opera life of the Silks. The characterization must have reminded me of some people I know because these stories are my favorite.
Then we continue with Dee who tried to help the gentle giant, Eddie. There was a homeless man in love with Princess Hannah. A poetry teacher who made me wonder if the author was projecting himself in Milo’s Last Chance. An orphan who lucked out in Alice’s Eyes. A New York Yankees’ twenty-fifth man, who became the secret lover of a hospital administrator, in Major Leaguer. Lastly, a dangerous female ex-con in White Trash, who exhibited psychopathic behavior.
These thirteen stories will hold you tight and then release you to breathe. And think. You’ll be wondering and thinking of the Silks, and crazy characters, and colorful situations, for quite a while. Jerome Charyn’s Bitter Bronx is quite a tour. I enjoyed it. I think you will, too. I received a free copy of Bitter Bronx by Jerome Charyn from Tribute Book, but no other compensation was received, and my review is my honest evaluation.