Monday, June 15, 2015

Bitter Bronx by Jerome Charyn

Genre: Short Stories
Source: I received a copy to facilitate my review. The opinions expressed here are my own.

From Goodreads:
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 Thoughts:
This was a tough one for me to read.  Had I grown up in the Bronx, or lived in New York where I was more familiar with its history, I might have made better connections to this book. Instead I felt disconnected. I was able to get a sense of what life in the Bronx was like and the changes it went through after Robert Moses split it in two.  I have to agree that the changes were not for the best. I know my first husband came from the Bronx and his parents would talk about their reasoning for living was how bad it had grown and how gang filled it had become.  His writing was wonderful to read. It made me long to see the Bronx before the expressway went through cutting areas in half. It almost reminded me of the Berlin Wall that cut off the two sides.  Each side grew in a different way and at a different rate.  Sometimes the things we do in the name of progress have the opposite effect. The division created is one that has been a struggle for years and will continue for many more to come.  This was an honest look at what once was, what it is now and hopefully a glimpse into what it may become one day.

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.

You can find him on:


New York Times Review

1 comment:

  1. Sandra, thanks for taking the time to read and review Jerome's latest release.