Bit­ter Bronx: Thir­teen Stories

  • Review
By – June 12, 2015

Jerome Charyn was born in the Bronx, where dreams were pos­si­ble. He does not return with warm, fuzzy nos­tal­gia. The sto­ries in this col­lec­tion begin with ear­ly images Charyn gath­ered as a young boy. Dor­mant but fer­ment­ing, they are now brought to life for us to con­sid­er. More often than not, they are bit­ter, not bittersweet.

Bit­ter Bronx moves back and forth between descen­dents of Charyn’s gen­er­a­tion and a col­or­ful sam­pling of all who fol­lowed, intro­duc­ing men and women who have come to live in one sec­tion or anoth­er, strug­gling to exist with dig­ni­ty and love. Among the group is How­ell, the super’s son, return­ing after many years to the Grand Con­course, who real­izes upon a sur­prise reunion with his first love, the build­ing owner’s Jew­ish princess,” that he will always be the super’s son and couldn’t get out of there fast enough! Young Ado­nis,” an art stu­dent, tries to leave the Bronx but dis­cov­ers its hold is like a chain. After serv­ing time in prison, Angela, a Lati­na, works on Arthur Avenue. She finds her­self entan­gled in the pow­er strug­gle between the Ital­ians and the Alba­ni­ans, and her love for a gen­tle guy from Mon­tana. Will John­son, a momen­tary Yan­kee suc­cess, returns to the south Bronx, the sec­tion noto­ri­ous as the poor­est, most crowd­ed bar­rio east of the Mis­sis­sip­pi.” In an unlike­ly sit­u­a­tion, he falls in love with Lau­ren­cia, a beau­ti­ful, Irish red­head. As time and con­di­tions dic­tate, they live at the mer­cy of the local drug lords.

Eddie Carmel, the Jew­ish giant, and his life­long friend, Dee, the pho­tog­ra­ph­er of freaks, take us on an emo­tion­al jour­ney leav­ing us with haunt­ing images past and present. Jerome Charyn says, I could have been that giant, with his curly hair and his cane, hov­er­ing over his tiny, bewil­dered par­ents, like some mon­ster of the New World. I wasn’t eight feet tall, but I must have bewil­dered my own par­ents, who couldn’t under­stand my own silences and wolflike wanderings.”

In a won­der­ful­ly reveal­ing author’s note, Charyn explains his path to writ­ing the Bronx sto­ries. He used the expe­ri­ences and rewards of his teach­ing career; a per­son­al knowl­edge of street life gleaned from his broth­er, a homi­cide detec­tive; a sin­gle, icon­ic pho­to by Diane Arbus; and a rev­e­la­to­ry moment when in the Bronx on loca­tion for a doc­u­men­tary, he spots a sin­gle sign: SAME DAY OCCU­PAN­CY”. But the dri­ving force is his deter­mi­na­tion to expose the results of Robert Moses, our mas­ter builder [who] believed he could res­cue the bor­ough by build­ing a high­way right through it.” Instead, the Cross Bronx Express­way did the oppo­site: it divid­ed the land into north and south and con­tributed to the well-doc­u­ment­ed dis­as­trous ruin of a beau­ti­ful land­scape. These sto­ries fer­ret out folks who sur­vived. They are deliv­ered with irony and compassion.

Relat­ed Content:

Read Jerome Charyn’s Vis­it­ing Scribe Posts

The Land of Aardvark

New York as a Crime Novel

Back to the Bronx

Pen­ny Metsch, MLS, for­mer­ly a school librar­i­an on Long Island and in New York City, now focus­es on ear­ly lit­er­a­cy pro­grams in Hobo­ken, NJ.

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