RARA-AVIS: Jerome Charyn's New York non-fiction

From: Jay Gertzman ( jgertzma@earthlink.net)
Date: 21 May 2006

Charyn is an important writer about New York. I think he lives in the West Village. _Gangsters and Gold Diggers: Old New York, The Jazz Age, and the Birth of Broadway_ has a lot to say about gangsters, night clubs, the gangs, Runyon, The Jazz Mayor (Walker), Jack Johnson, Fanny Brice. There is so much about these people elsewhere, but Charyn has a respect for the connection between the hoi polloi and the Big Wheels that is all his own. The book is dedicated to his "bestiary": including Owney "The Killer" Madden. Read it and see if that's justified, and noir. The last chapter is about the "sanitized tourist district," Disney Times Square. This is written smack in the worst time of all in New York, Corporation Bloomberg, as bush-wa like "family-friendly,"
"clean," and "decent" cover the immanent immersion of large swaths of Brooklyn, Coney Island, the Bronx, the Lower East Side in the maw of the kind of real estate moguls who have held the 9/11 memorial hostage for 5 years to the ideal of maximum upscale retail outlets.

_Metropolis: NY as Myth, Marketplace, and Magical Land_ (1986) has terrific coverage of the Lower East Side novels like _Haunch Paunch and Jowl_ and _The Rise of David Levinsky_, and has as lot to say about peddling, about the East Village artists of the 80s like David Wojnarowitz, about Arnold Rothstein, and Ed Koch (whom Charyn hung out with for a month and brilliantly dubbed a 20th century Golem). There is a strong thread of Jewish social consciousness, materialist glut, guilt, and redemption about the book.

Both books have paragraphs on _The Great Gatesby_, obviously a strong force in Charyn's writing life. They make quite a companion to The Isaac Quartet. Isaac has an intestinal worm in him, which rather magically helps his rise and his bizarre election to mayor (if only). But it is a worm that he has to cope with, and eliminate before it eats whatever is left of him that gives him a sense of cohesion with the people he is going to lead. If he fails (or if he becomes the purifying, destroying Golem that no one can control), pin-stripped bloodless vampires grinning with perfect Cupid lips (with names like Trump, Silverstein, and Ratner) will suck the city's blood and destroy any semblance of diversity, privacy and self-expression.

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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 21 May 2006 EDT