Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Book Review: Johnny One-Eye by Jerome Charyn

A novel of Revolutionary intrigue awaits you in Johnny One-Eye by Jerome Charyn.

In his eloquent style, Charyn turns his attention to the American Revolution in Manhattan. British officers feast like kings while the rest of the population scrounges for food. It is a city that has been abandoned to the generals and whores that rule it, and spies lurk everywhere.

Our narrator is John Stocking, a one-eyed double agent found trying to poison General Washington's soup. Caught between both armies, Johnny navigates the dangers of wartime Manhattan while attempting to elude those who would murder him without losing a wink of sleep.

Driven mad by his love for Clara, a stunning harlot in his mother's brothel, Johnny struggles with his allegiances, not always knowing who is friend or foe. He brings the reader along through the eight years of the Revolution in Manhattan, from 1776 until Washington's moving departure in the autumn of 1783.

You may never look at the American Revolution the same again.

Having fallen in love with Charyn's writing in The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson and Joe DiMaggio: The Long Vigil, when I heard another of his books was available for review, I jumped at the chance to read it. Though the least favorite of mine out of the three, Johnny One-Eye brought the American Revolution to life for me in a new way.

It is a moving, compelling story of intrigue. Spies, thieves, and generals seek the upper hand as young America fights for its independence. Plots are uncovered, murders are committed, and sexual encounters lead to shared secrets. Johnny One-Eye is both realistic and vulgar. Yet, what war isn't those things?

The author states in his note at the back that though he tried to write a story about Benedict Arnold, it was Washington who he grew to like more and more as he read. It surprised me, then, that he created this fictional family for Washington, which included a lover named Gertrude who was the madame of the Holy Ground, a brothel where Washington would play vingt-et-un, and Gertrude's illegitimate son, Johnny One-Eye.

Charyn blends fact and fiction in such a way that all of what is written is believable--something I admired in The Secret Lives of Emily Dickinson. What I feel the author does best in this novel is depict how the Revolution destroyed Manhattan and the impact the war had on its citizens. Though I didn't find many characters to love or enjoy in this book, I discovered I could better appreciate and understand the founding of our county, the sacrifices that were made, and the high costs that brought forth an infant nation. I will definitely seek out more of Charyn's work in the future.

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Jerome Charyn (born May 13, 1937) is an award-winning American author. With nearly 50 published works, Charyn has earned a long-standing reputation as an inventive and prolific chronicler of real and imagined American life. Michael Chabon calls him “one of the most important writers in American literature.”

New York Newsday hailed Charyn as “a contemporary American Balzac,” and the Los Angeles Times described him as “absolutely unique among American writers.”
Since the 1964 release of Charyn’s first novel, Once Upon a Droshky, he has published 30 novels, three memoirs, eight graphic novels, two books about film, short stories, plays and works of non-fiction. Two of his memoirs were named New York Times Book of the Year. Charyn has been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. He received the Rosenthal Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and has been named Commander of Arts and Letters by the French Minister of Culture.

Charyn was Distinguished Professor of Film Studies at the American University of Paris until he left teaching in 2009.

In addition to his writing and teaching, Charyn is a tournament table tennis player, once ranked in the top 10 percent of players in France. Noted novelist Don DeLillo called Charyn’s book on table tennis, Sizzling Chops & Devilish Spins, "The Sun Also Rises of ping-pong."

Charyn lives in Paris and New York City.

Title: Johnny One-Eye
Author: Jerome Charyn
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company

Price: $24.95
ISBN: 9780393064971
Pages: 448
Release: February 2008

Buy links:
Barnes & Noble

Price: $14.95
ISBN: 9780393333954
Pages: 448
Release: February 2009

Buy links:
Barnes & Noble

eBook buy links:

I received a copy of this book from the author and Tribute Books in exchange for my honest opinion. I received no monetary compensation of any kind for this review.


Tribute Books said...

Cheryl, I agree - Jerome really captured the tone of what it must have really been like to live in Manhattan during the Revolution.

You can feel the desperation in a way I never fully associated with the war before reading this book.

I remember watching the miniseries "John Adams" and getting a deeper visual of the time period, but "Johnny One-Eye" really added more depth in terms of showing how the vast majority of people were affected - British soldiers, American rebels, women, children, African Americans, etc.

Thanks again for reviewing another of Jerome's books. We appreciate having you as part of the tour and always look forward to what you have to say.

Cheryl said...

Thanks Nicole. I still haven't had a chance to sice the JA mini-series, but I think I have it recorded on DVD somewhere. I really want to see it, but there are always a million things to do.

Thanks for including me in Jerome's tours. He's definitely a rare talent whose work I have come to enjoy.