METROPOLIS: New York as Myth, Marketplace and Magical Land by Jerome Charyn

METROPOLIS: New York as Myth, Marketplace and Magical Land

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Sure to be read by politically inclined New Yorkers for its behind-the-scenes glimpses of Mayor Ed Koch, ""a tall Woody Allen, with a mean streak""; Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, a ""dragon slayer,"" and ex. Board of Education Chancellor Anthony Alvarado, ""a perfect rattlesnake,"" this will also be of interest to those concerned with what makes their city work (and not work). One wonders, however, just how readers outside the five boroughs will respond to this brash, often breezy, sometimes blistering insider's look at ""the acknowledged capital of the world."" That last phrase alone is sure to raise a few trans-Hudson hackles. Included in novelist Charyn's 13 wide-ranging essays is a cast of characters from the past and present--Robert Moses; Douglas Leigh, the man who illuminated the Empire State Building; Krazy Kat and SoHo art dealer Mary Boone; ""Roxy"" of Music Hall fame; Mickey Mantle, Damon Runyon and ""the spider lady,"" a black performer with a one-line role (""Do you like it?"") in a grubby Times Square sex palace. All are deftly delineated in prose that displays a typical New York blend of sentiment and cynicism that's as sweet and sour as a plate of stuffed cabbage. Charyn, born in the Bronx of immigrant parents and a prolific chronicler of Gotham fictions, states one of his major themes early in his opening chapter: "". . .modern New York comes right out of Ellis Island."" Well, perhaps. It's an interesting premise and one the author pursues with a great deal of ingenuity. One does feel he's straining a bit, though, when he suggests that the Rockettes are ""a parody of the immigrant dream of perfection."" And was Krazy Kat in fact ""probably the most perverse presentation of the immigrant in any art form,"" in love with Ignatz Mouse, who is ""like some enchanted dream of America""? One doubts it. Such kvetching aside, Charyn for the most part supports his thesis with sensitivity and a fine sense of irony, as when he confesses that at age six he was convinced Charlie Chan had to be Jewish. ""A superior little snot,"" he calls himself. In sum, entertaining, but too parochial to travel well.

Pub Date: July 21st, 1986
Publisher: Putnam