From Charyn (Raised by Wolves: The Turbulent Art and Times of Quentin Tarantino, 2006, etc.), a tale of intrigue, spying, George Washington, Benedict Arnold, Manhattan prostitutes, a castrato and a one-eye double agent—in other words, almost more history, character and action than can be contained in a single novel.
The eponymous narrator, John Stocking, grows up in and around a brothel in New York City and is both bewildered and curious about who his father is. He knows his mother is Gert, the fiery madam in charge of the “nuns” at the facility (located in a Red Light district called “Holy Ground”), but the mystery of his paternity remains for much of the story. (For a while he’s led to believe that George Washington is not just the father of his country.) The novel opens with John at the age of 17, seemingly in danger of being hanged, but Washington takes pity on him. Shortly afterward, John finds out that he was not actually in real danger, and from this point the novel becomes a picaresque adventure as the reader follows John’s tortuous path through the American Revolution. He falls in love with Clara, a ravishing enchantress who’s the most lusted-after woman in Gert’s stable. One of the most interesting aspects of the novel is its portrayal of George Washington, far removed from the thin-lipped, dour patriot whose image dominates our view of the Revolution. Here he is a larger than life (literally—he’s portrayed as a giant) and fully human character who’s as concerned with the goings-on at Gwen’s as he is with Valley Forge. Other historical personages flit through the book with varying degrees of intensity: George Washington’s secretary, the diminutive and guileful Alexander Hamilton; “Sir Billy” Howe, commander of the British army; his brother Admiral Lord Richard Howe (aka “Black Dick”); and most significantly, Benedict Arnold, either a hero or a patriot, depending on whose side you’re on.
A crackling good epic, both comic and bawdy.