Thursday, June 4, 2015

Jerome Charyn - Bitter Bronx - Review and Giveaway

About the Book

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).

My Review

What gave me an immediate sense of how the Bronx came burning down was Jerome Charyn's reference to a pack of wild dogs that roamed through Crotona Park in the aftermath of the greatest upheaval to ever hit the borough. There's even a rumor that they mauled to death a small child. Later, a prominent gang adopted that vicious canine emblem to grace its bags of heroin. And that in a nutshell sums up the disheartening tone of BITTER BRONX, it's fall into destruction and chaos that no one could stop. All that's left for Charyn to do is lament what once was of this "brick wilderness."

And there's no telling symbol than the most recognizable fixture of the Bronx—Yankee Stadium. Or should I say, the NEW Yankee Stadium, the mecca by which all success is measured. In "Major Leaguer," the leader of the Crotona Dogs invites superintendent Will Johnson to join him for a game in his box seats. The gangbanger remembers his Papi talking about watching Will play center field for the Yankees, and how proud he was of Will's glorious achievement as a native of the Bronx. But Will's not so proud. He only played one game as a Yankee, and he didn't even get a hit. The nostalgia factor rings false for Will. He doesn't believe himself to be worthy of any accolades, and he's not going to kowtow to the Crotona Dogs. He has too much pride for that.

Charyn, a native of the Bronx himself, nails the vibe of the place. You can feel the monotonous movement of the subway in, "I had to ride the local in and out of the Bronx. Each stop was a kind of purgatory. Freeman Street. Simpson Street. Intervale Avenue…" You can feel the rot and ruin in, "The Art Deco palaces along the Grand Concourse have been refurbished, but the blight will never really go away." You can feel the eminent sense of danger in, "Paradise Road had sharpshooters reigning from the roofs. The drug lords had put them there. But after a while the sharpshooters were bored to death and would pick off children and old men."

It's no wonder Charyn compares the broken landscape of the Bronx to bombed-out Belfast, and why he's reluctant to revisit his memories in print, no doubt because they clash so painfully with what he finds there today. It's heartbreaking to see one's home turned into something unrecognizable. It's sad that a fresh wind of change has never come to the Bronx, especially when New York is a city that's ever changing, dashing dreams, while raising others up.

But one thing is certain. Despite its many flaws, the Bronx did one thing right. It gave birth to a literary talent like Jerome Charyn.


Bitter Bronx can be purchased at:
Amazon, Barnes and Noble

Prices/Formats: $9.99-$12.49 ebook, $24.95 hardcover
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 320
ISBN: 9780871404893
Publisher: Liveright
Release: June 1, 2015
Click to add to your Goodreads list.

About the Author

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.

Links to connect with Jerome:
Web Site
Blog Tour Site

About the Giveaway

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  1. What I like most about your piece is your unique viewpoint - you nailed the vibe of the author, that's for sure. The Bronx is now a sort of 'no country for old men,' but these dark stories bring it back to life.