Maria’s Girls

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

MARIA’S GIRLS is the sixth Jerome Charyn novel to feature the New York policeman, Isaac Sidel. As before, Sidel weaves and unweaves intricate alliances between the forces of law and the forces of disorder. These alliances and their repercussions are the fabric from which the author fashions highly colored adult fairytales of good and evil, remorse and revenge, romance and betrayal, against the backdrop of a surreal Manhattan.

The plot of MARIA’S GIRLS begins with Sidel’s unusually moralistic desire to unmask corruption in the school system, and spirals somewhat dizzyingly around mobsters, capitalists, a two-fisted cardinal, and many other moral grotesques. The author’s light narrative touch and quirky sense of timing provide action with the momentum of a roller-coaster and the compulsiveness of a dream. Underlying the numerous violent set-pieces is a dimly perceived yet socially urgent concern for the subjects of the novel’s title—ironically enough, the intended beneficiaries of the corruption that Sidel sets out to eliminate.

This irony is not merely a wry meditation on the ways of the contemporary world. It is a view which informs the author’s overall perspective. There is, in MARIA’S GIRLS, an inevitable collusion between the forces of good and evil, not merely in the social realm but within the individual. Isaac Sidel is the exemplary case in point. Hero and victim, he is a figure in which the subversive and the orthodox are continually at war. This struggle fuels the fears and drives of the various characters in Charyn’s potent fictional cocktail, based on equal parts of Damon Runyon and Edgar Allan Poe.