Jerome Charyn

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Charyn, Jerome (Vol. 8)

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Charyn, Jerome 1937–

American novelist, short story writer, playwright, and editor, Charyn, who typically writes in a surrealistic, comic style, is a versatile, talented writer who so far has failed to write a major novel. He writes well about the emotional misfits and the dispossesed living in urban ghettos. (See also CLC, Vol. 5, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

Marilyn the Wild is flawed by its own rampaging vitality. A Charyn character cannot simply put on a coat: Esther Rose's "fist burrowed into her sleeve like the skull of a groundhog." Too many adversaries shrill in the same vituperative key. Even lovers snarl their sweet nothings, as if they were pouring poison into each other's ears. Yet the author endows his most grotesque characters with a certain beauty. His kinkiest people—an albino Negro pyromaniac, a senile, one-eyed dishwasher—are the imaginings of a major talent. (p. 96)

LeAnne Schreiber, "A Terrible Beauty," in Time (reprinted by permission from Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine; copyright Time Inc. 1976), April 19, 1976, pp. 94, 96.

What's to be done with this foolish thing, the father? Let him circle himself to zero, as Joseph Heller does Bob Slocum in "Something Happened." Drag him mumbling and dead to a far part of the land, as Donald Barthelme does in "The Dead Father." Orbit him out into transcendent space with Saul Bellow's Charlie Citrine of "Humboldt's Gift."

Or set him up for a double fall—a stumble as man, a bumble as myth—as Jerome Charyn does in his exciting and deceptive new novel "Marilyn the Wild." Our father is half a myth for conceiving us. We trip him so he can see he has fallen on us. "Marilyn the Wild" examines the damage with compassionate precision.

Charyn's man-myth is Isaac Sidel, a Manhattan police inspector who presided over Charyn's last novel, "Blue Eyes." Sidel is the "Moses of Clinton and Delancey," a gray knight known as "Isaac the Pure" and "Isaac the Just." He "sleeps with his notebook" and gouges the eyes of the unjust. Sidel daily battles alien crime combines, checks would-be supercops, tolerates ineffectual F.B.I. agents and confronts sleazy journalists.

It is not easy being an idea of order on the East Side, but the domestic entanglements of the mythic cop most interest Charyn and the reader…. Charyn's game is more than just revealing the official hero's private weaknesses. He shows how Sidel's absorption in his own paternal myth both causes the novel's plot and prevents Sidel from solving it equitably…. (p. 54)

The plot—as it should be—is pure convention; plenty of risks, coincidences, melodrama and ritualized scenes. This conventionality satisfies the detective reader's expectations and makes for a first-rate entertainment. More important, it reflects the mythic rules Sidel lives within. Travesty would have been easy. Instead Charyn artfully half-turns the detective from against itself to examine the paradoxes of fatherhood and authority, mythology and manhood.

"Marilyn the Wild" continues the pleasures of "Blue Eyes"—social and religious multiplicity, eccentric street people, close attention to gesture and voice, and colloquial energy…. The characters are wild; they close upon one another, bartering, demanding, consuming, berating, gouging. Myth's penetration of the everyday creates an atmosphere of force and danger. (pp. 54, 56)

After "Marilyn the Wild" sells a lot of copies, I hope the movies buy it. I'd like to see Charyn slow down (nine books in 12 years) and consolidate his considerable strengths into a major work. At present he threatens to be the American Anthony Burgess, who wrote too many partial books too quickly early in his career. Like Burgess, Charyn's novels...

(This entire section contains 1071 words.)

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have often exploited an eccentric subject or have been written to a convention. "Marilyn the Wild" uses its formula expertly and sensitively. Now maybe Charyn won't need it any longer. (p. 56)

Thomas LeClair, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1976 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 2, 1976.

"The Education of Patrick Silver" concludes Jerome Charyn's trilogy of novels ("Blue Eyes" and "Marilyn the Wild" are the first two) about New York cops and marginal crooks and killers who suggest an animated cartoon by a Chagall of the Ashcan School. The novels stress, among other things, a fluidity of affiliations between its cops and crooks: Patrick Silver, an ex-policeman too addicted to Guinness stout to remain useful to the force, has switched sides. He is now employed by the Guzmanns, a family of criminals headquartered in the Bronx, as bodyguard to the feebleminded 44-year-old Guzmann "baby," Jerónimo. (p. 5)

It is not clear why the novel is named for Patrick. He isn't especially central to the book. In fact it is the author—rather than any of his characters, rather than his story—who dominates. His novel is a vigorous performance, but more kinetic than dynamic, its notably fluent language a kind of novelistic blarney, lavish with hyperbolic verbs, with a nearly surreal physicality…. After a while, the color of the details starts to run. The book—the whole trilogy—has a lilt to it, but the lilt ends up cavorting solo.

This effect must be accountable in part to the smallness of the story the book has to tell; the linguistic bravura exists as if to buck up a weak plot—essentially a lot of cops and robbers running around Greenwich Village and the Bronx, Guzmanns hiding or fleeing, Sidel and his men sniffing, tailing, tackling. The story has mobility but little body.

Charyn's ripe language also reflects his book's load of exoticism. To a point, it is a strength of the novel and the trilogy that its cast of characters is so colorful—Jewish cops, a cop from Harvard, Patrick Silver an Irish Jew, the Guzmann Marranos, Spanish or Portuguese Jews originally, passing as Christians. (pp. 5, 17)

Though the stew is too spicy, and ultimately heavy, it speaks for Charyn's sophisticated sense of New York. He apparently has investigated the city's entire body, within and without, and he has written it up in Charynese. The exoticism weakens to the extent that the novel's characters are "characters." The local color, for all the authenticity one knows to be its basis, is often too pointedly garish to be convincing, and actually helps to drain the book of impact…. "The Education of Patrick Silver" is not sadism. It is certainly talented. But it is mostly plumage. (p. 17)

Richard P. Brickner, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1976 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), September 5, 1976.


Charyn, Jerome (Vol. 5)