Monday, 22 June 2015

Book Review of Jerome Charyn's Bitter Bronx

The Overnight Bestseller is pleased to be participating in the Tribute Books Blog Tour for Bitter Bronx by Jerome Charyn.

Book Summary

Brooklyn is dead. Long live the Bronx! In Bitter Bronx, Jerome Charyn returns to his roots and leads the literary renaissance of an oft-overlooked borough in this surprising new collection.

In Bitter Bronx, one of our most gifted and original novelists depicts a world before and after modern urban renewal destroyed the gritty sanctity of a land made famous by Ruth, Gehrig, and Joltin' Joe.

Bitter Bronx is suffused with the texture and nostalgia of a lost time and place, combining a keen eye for detail with Jerome Charyn's lived experience. These stories are informed by a childhood growing up near that middle-class mecca, the Grand Concourse; falling in love with three voluptuous librarians at a public library in the Lower Depths of the South Bronx; and eating at Mafia-owned restaurants along Arthur Avenue's restaurant row, amid a "land of deprivation…where fathers trundled home…with a monumental sadness on their shoulders."

In "Lorelei," a lonely hearts grifter returns home and finds his childhood sweetheart still living in the same apartment house on the Concourse; in "Archy and Mehitabel" a high school romance blossoms around a newspaper comic strip; in "Major Leaguer" a former New York Yankee confronts both a gang of drug dealers and the wreckage that Robert Moses wrought in his old neighborhood; and in three interconnected stories—"Silk & Silk," "Little Sister," and "Marla"—Marla Silk, a successful Manhattan attorney, discovers her father's past in the Bronx and a mysterious younger sister who was hidden from her, kept in a fancy rest home near the Botanical Garden. In these stories and others, the past and present tumble together in Charyn's singular and distinctly "New York prose, street-smart, sly, and full of lurches" (John Leonard, New York Times).

Throughout it all looms the "master builder" Robert Moses, a man who believed he could "save" the Bronx by building a highway through it, dynamiting whole neighborhoods in the process. Bitter Bronx stands as both a fictional eulogy for the people and places paved over by Moses' expressway and an affirmation of Charyn's "brilliant imagination" (Elizabeth Taylor, Chicago Tribune).

 Price/Formats: $12.59 ebook,
$24.95 hardcover
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 320
Publisher: Liveright
Release: June 15, 2015
ISBN: 9780871404893

Author Bio

Jerome Charyn's stories have appeared in The Atlantic, The Paris Review, The 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.

The Overnight Bestseller's Review of Bitter Bronx

Having previously reviewed Under the Eye of God by Jerome Charyn, I was already aware of the intense hold that the Bronx of his childhood has on his imagination. As he writes in the "Author's Note" to Bitter Bronx:
I realized that I had been shaped as a writer not with the words I didn’t have, not with lavish pencil cases, not with library books I had never borrowed, but with some ghost’s vocabulary. I’d filled that amorphous void of the South Bronx with my own imagination.

There is both nostalgia and comedy in Bitter Bronx, and it is written in Charyn's lyrical prose that speaks of eyes bleeding “the viscous color of tears” and of Jackson Pollock's paintings “with their lashing rhythm, as if colors could cry out," to give only two examples of his lyricism.

The thirteen stories in this book are populated by an exotic blend of characters who surprise us with their eccentricities at the same time as they touch us with their unrequited love, losses, and thwarted dreams. There is Lorelei, who lives with her father in a Bronx apartment, never able to move beyond its sad confines. There is the story of Adonis, which is particularly poignant in its depiction of the lonely mob widows who are never able to feel loved once again. There are three stories of the Silks, reminiscent of Salinger's fictional and dysfunctional families. In “The Major Leaguer,” we are reminded of Charyn's abiding interest in the players of a lost era of greatness who emerged from the Bronx such as Joe DiMaggio, the subject of Charyn's book, Joe Dimaggio: The Long Vigil. And, in the background, as in Under the Eye of God, outside forces conspire to destroy the author's beloved Bronx through development and land grabs. The shadow of Robert Moses is felt in each of these stories, a man who created a highway that irrevocably divided the Bronx into north and south.
Bitter Bronx will appeal to fans of Charyn's Isaac Sidel series, short story lovers in general, and those readers seeking a refreshing book with unconventional prose and colorful characters brought lovingly to life.

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  1. Michael, thank you for such a wonderful review of Jerome's latest! :)

  2. You're welcome, Nicole. It's always a pleasure to read Jerome's work. All the best for the tour, Mike

  3. This one means so much because it comes from a favorite author. Thanks, to you and to Tribute Books for bringing your talent and insight into our literary inner circle. Lenore and Jerome

    1. Thank you very much, Lenore and Jerome. A pleasure.