THE CHAINS by Gerald Green
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Green returns to Brooklyn (where he belongs more than anywhere else), with a saga of shtarkers--Jewish strong-arm men who metamorphosed into gangsters. For instance: the Chains (originally Schoen and changed upon immigration entry), whose exploits, almost all of them unsentimentally rough, span some 50 years. Jake Chain, a Williamsburg iceman who almost singlehandedly beats off a gang of Irish rowdies stoning Jews observing Yom Kippur, soon attracts paying customers for his physical talents; he's hired to protect the beaten-up-upon, locked-out, burnt-out members of a ladies' blouse-makers union. (The union is led by Jake's distant cousin Eva Helig, whose famous oratory and social zeal will always insure the progressively less lawful Chains a certain marginal virtue.) From simple shtarking the Chains graduate to labor racketeering--with an old nemesis named Schoenkeit always on the other side--and then on to bootlegging. And the heir to the bootlegging operation, the Brooklyn General Supply Company, is Jake's son Muttele. . . turned ""Mortimer"" . . . then ""Mort."" True, there's violence aplenty: Jake is finally gunned down by Schoenkeit's men; Mort is blinded later by acid in a revenge attack. But the Chains--now including Mort's son Martin--are shrewd enough to buy up liquor distribution channels once booze again goes legit. So the Chain empire, though rocked now and then, holds fast. Does Green show any more finesse here than in his other recent, crude fiction? No, not really. But this time he at least fills his book with chunks of specific knowledge--Brownsville, bootlegging, shtarking--and the subject matter both discourages him from gross sentimentality and somewhat justifies his essential vulgarity. So: Green at his most honest and unadulterated, with a built-in appeal to Jewish readers--who may or may not appreciate the Chains' patronizing disdain for the non-Jewish drunks (shikkers) who buy their booze (a disdain which Green unmistakably seems to share). A solid, lively, though perhaps ethnically limited, bet.

Pub Date: April 18th, 1980
Publisher: Seaview--dist. by Harper & Row