A junkie hipster’s memoir of his vagabond life doubles as a love letter to his brilliant, troubled older sister.
Literary folk may have recognized Geng only as the drugged, thieving brother of legendary New Yorker humorist Veronica Geng, but on the sketchier side of Manhattan, he was himself a legend, albeit of a very different kind. Record Steve, or just plain “Rec,” could boost whole shelves’ worth of LPs from stores on a daily basis. As related in his sharp, picaresque memoir, he was a long time coming to this notoriety and certainly earned it. Born in 1943, an army brat who spent most of his childhood in Philadelphia, Geng developed a taste for trouble as his bitter, irascible father was reassigned to bases in Germany and France. There, easy access to jazz clubs, Beat literature and drugs helped form the author’s future; his models were “the hipster, the hophead, and the hustler.” Back in the U.S., he fit right into the ’60s Greenwich Village scene, described here with memorable vitality as a trickster world of jazz and scams through which he flitted for several decades in a fun-and-danger-seeking haze. As Geng’s underworld star rose, so did the literary reputation of “Ronnie,” the sister he loved more than anything and hated to disappoint. While Steve ran scams and fenced stolen goods to feed his habit, she wrote humor pieces for the New Yorker, edited Philip Roth and had bad affairs with a number of Manhattan luminaries. (In addition to a sharp wit, the siblings shared strong self-destructive tendencies.) Geng is an astute chronicler of his milieu, sharply evoking everything from Village taverns to the “soulful and lighthearted energy” of black juke joints in the Florida town where he lived for a while with his dying father. He’s also a writer of powerful emotion, exploring the highs and lows of his fraught relationship with the tragically mercurial Ronnie.
Poetic, vivid and stained with tears of regret.