Charyn's fascination with quirky New York crime stories (El Bronx, p. 21, etc.) takes its cue from his early childhood, as this brief, charming, idiosyncratic memoir shows. He was an oddly brainy young boy, growing up in a cartoonlike world of larger-than-life adult personalities, set against the rich backdrop of the Bronx during the early 1940s. His childhood, he says, was dominated by the ""magical equation that existed between mom and me."" His exasperated, distant, womanizing father found it increasingly difficult to reach, or control, either his energetic son or his brooding, beautiful Russian wife. Indeed, his mother came to depend on Jerome so much that, for a time, she kept him out of school. He was her escort, cook, dresser, and the chief mediator between her and the onslaught of men who found her irresistible. ""Faigele,"" as she was affectionately called, suffered repeatedly from crushing spells of depression, brought on by her concern for a beloved brother caught behind German lines in Russia. Charyn's recollections of his complex, tough, yet melancholic mother, and of the circle of small-time corrupt politicos and crooks with whom she became associated (she was recruited to become the dealer at a regular high-stakes card game), come untainted by the judgments of adulthood, so full are they of inclusive, childlike love, language, pardon, and even joy. He worked to pull her through her dark periods. And she, in turn, protected him from the sporadic attentions of his father, labored at a variety of jobs to keep him fed and clothed, and encouraged his appetite for life. Wisdom fell hard into this young life, outstripping language by a long shot. In remembering the Dark Lady from Belorusse, Charyn walks alongside his muse. He unites the colorful and loving boy that was, with the unique crime writer he became. Youth was the magical place of Charyn's inspiration and it is captured here honestly and simply.