cover image Bitter Bronx

Bitter Bronx

Jerome Charyn. Norton/Liveright, $24.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-87140-489-3

Tough on the outside but tender at heart, the 13 stories in this volume serve as a nostalgic elegy to the Bronx of the past. In “Lorelei,” a con man returns to his childhood home and finds his high school sweetheart trapped in a grotesque state of mutual dependency with her father. “Dee” explores the relationship between Diane Arbus and Eddie Carmel, the so-called Jewish Giant of the Bronx, made famous by her photographs. In “Major Leaguer,” a former baseball player develops an uneasy alliance with a neighborhood drug lord whose father remembered the one game that he played for the New York Yankees. The setting for all of the stories is a Bronx divided into north and south by “an expressway, which had turned everything around it into a vast moonscape of flattened warehouses and empty lots,” and the titular bitterness is Charyn’s own at the blight brought to the borough he remembers from childhood. For all that, Charyn’s well-drawn characters nonetheless flourish, and most manage to rise above their decrepit surroundings, such as the high school teacher in “Milo’s Last Chance” who infects his barrio students with his enthusiasm for poetry “until they began to sing out words like some wild soprano.” Mixing equal parts grit and charm, there’s no need to have set foot in the Bronx to enjoy these stories. (June)