A rendering of Teddy Roosevelt’s early life that spotlights formative moments in colorful, entertaining episodes.
The young boy saw a werewolf near his bed at night when an asthma attack came on. As Teddy narrates, his father would order up “the Roosevelt high phaeton with its pair of long-tailed horses” and let the wind fill Teddy’s lungs in thrilling rides on the “scorched plains of Manhattan’s Upper West Side.” He was the youngest man in the state Assembly, where he says he wore “a pince-nez with a gold tassel, and a peacoat from my Harvard days.” When he lost his mother and wife within hours of each other, he fled west, to Dakota territory, “with silver stirrups, a tailored buckskin suit, and a Bowie knife from Tiffany’s.” But he’s pulled back to New York, where he becomes a police commissioner fiercely disliked for his blue laws and anti-corruption drive. He’s rescued from a melee at the Social Reform Club by his new squad of bicycle cops, whose leader will join him in Cuba. Before Charyn (Jerzy, 2017, etc.) ends with President William McKinley’s assassination, he gives the Rough Riders a big slice of the book not just for TR’s famous hill charge, but for the reluctant leader who could scrounge for his troops and suffer whatever the men suffered—though he also had a tent from Abercrombie & Fitch. The prolific Charyn has written scripts for graphic books. With TR, there’s a sense of the outsize characters of 19th-century dime novels, though without the hagiography. Roosevelt embodied contradictions—a privileged reformist, a cowpoke from Manhattan, an honest politician—and his private life was riddled by strife and loss.
Charyn makes artful use of historical fact and fiction’s panache to capture the man before he became one of the great U.S. presidents and a face on Mount Rushmore.