Monday, June 1, 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

The simplicity of Jerome Charyn's sentence structure carries with it so much power. You can tell he chooses the words he wants in a painstaking fashion in order to convey the emotion he's after.

How does he conjure the horror of a homeless shelter?

"It was like living in an ocean of unwashed feet."

Not many writers are capable of doing that. It's something only the greats are known for. The first name that comes to mind is Hemingway and his no frills style. That type of writer makes writing a craft. It's just not done anymore, or done right. It's nice to see someone like Charyn take up the banner and herald it into the future.

BITTER BRONX is a compilation of short stories with a multitude of crisscrossing themes, published separately at one time or another from 2006 through 2013 in various literary periodicals. The unifying thread is the tension between men and women with the shadow of mental illness hovering over "the brick wasteland" of New York's northernmost borough.

For Charyn, love fails because the mind can't handle the full implications of it. Women are institutionalized. Men slog through life, coping with depression. Yet men and women can't seem to live without each other, despite the inevitable heartache and pain any potential union is bound to cause. Charyn gets specific when it comes to what the human heart desires. He labels the upside of love as "perfect passion" with jealousy and violence as its inevitable downside. Attraction is coupled with confusion until the dividing line between the two is no longer distinguishable.

Take for example, "the bluest eyes in all of Manhattan." They come with the warning, "Never touch the boss's daughter."

There's a push and pull throughout that makes for an bittersweet blend of longing and despair. Charyn shows how the two are linked by having fun with a kooky assortment of fiercely independent ladies and the downtrodden men who try to win them over.

At the heart of it, no one wants to be in the Bronx. It's the last outpost for many. Some never left. Others arrive because they have nowhere else to go. It's not the ideal setting for love to thrive. It's harsh, brutal, draining. Past success is quickly forgotten. Future ambitions are easily thwarted. The present is a no man's land of get what you can get, while you can get it. There are no long term commitments when surviving into the next day comes with no guarantee.

Charyn captures this sense of anxious inertia brilliantly. The Bronx wants to move ahead. It wants to rediscover itself. But it can't. And for now, the best Charyn can do is make it happen in the pages of his book.


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. Reading about such a prominent place is always very interesting. I really like stories where I can be *transported* to that place and learn something new. :)

    1. I agree, Hilary! It's nice to be able to visit a place through the pages of a book.