Friday, December 28, 2012
New York Jewish Noir: Under the Eye of God by Jerome Charyn
Flash forward thirty some odd years, and I'm still reading Jerome Charyn. In fact, I've probably now read about twenty books by him, which represents approximately half his output. Though he's written mainly fiction, there are also biographies (Babel, Dickinson, Marilyn Monroe, DiMaggio), histories, particularly when it comes to New York, including its Jewish crime bosses, and the cinema. He's also written graphic novels and even a book on ping-pong, which, in the tradition of his character Blue Eyes, is apparently Charyn's game. When it comes to crime fiction, the breadth of Charyn's oeuvre can also be suggested in his taste in crime fiction, on full display in a collection he edited back in the early 1990s, The Crime Lover's Casebook/The New Mystery, in which one finds writers like Ellroy alongside Borges, Faye Kellerman alongside Clarice Lispecter, DeLillo and Joyce Carol Oates alongside Mosley and Westlake.
Of course, it's also an homage to New York of days gone by, of what has been lost, and cannot be regained, however much ghosts from the past continue to haunt the city:
"Isaac had lived at the Polo Grounds. Had stolen through the gate countless times as a boy. He loved the New York Giants almost as much as he loved AR. He could become the next Methuselah, celebrate his thousandth birthday, and he still wouldn't recover from the Giants' betrayal of New York- they lit out for San Francisco like a pack of greedy dogs. The bastards took Willie Mays, who had to stop playing stickball in the streets of Harlem. He was never the Say Hey Kid in San Francisco, just another ballplayer with a sweet bat and glove....and without the empty plains of the Polo Grounds."
As the old disappears, leaving nothing more than a series of fading memories, the Bronx is about to be turned into military reservation, a real estate killing that will benefit less than one percent of the one percent. Here there's a shadow behind every shadow, a deal behind every deal, a conspiracy behind every conspiracy. People impersonate those who exist in a nexus between dream and reality. Children become political advisers. Decrepit hotels and eateries become holy places. Prostitutes become goddesses. Crime bosses and their accountants become the last remnants of civilization, as urban decay is flattened into concrete and, like a Koch Brothers wet-dream, all profits end up in the hands of misty-eyed oligarchs. This is crime fiction that only a first generation American with English as a second language could write. Because Charyn still manages to approach language and syntax in a fresh way, returning both writer and reader to the mythic, poetic and tragicomic roots of the genre, be it in the comic books or the stories read while growing up. At the same time, Charyn takes the genre forward, into uncharted territory. Who else can write like this? Who else can address large issues with such legerdemain deftness? How many writers can so easily ruin one's life?