In this coming-of-age novel, a young man tries to attain his dreams through luck and pluck.
In Clark’s (That Woman, 2017, etc.) Depression-era tale, Charles Czerny has led a sheltered life. Now in his 20s, he shares a small, dingy apartment on the Lower East Side with his mother, who has become increasingly distant following the early death of her lover, the man Charles called Uncle. The only thing Charles inherited from Uncle was his truck, Blue. Charles uses Blue to deliver bundles of newspapers to newsboys, but he also aspires to become a reporter someday. The naïve Charles is soon also earning extra money by doing special jobs for the Irish mob, which protects the papers he delivers. Charles, who uses the nom de plume Bulldog, then gets in over his head by taking part in a convoluted plot to murder a theater critic who gave a bad review to a musical that starred the mob boss’s girlfriend. Worse yet, he falls for the starlet. To save her and himself from that kingpin, Charles recruits a rival gang, a Chinese tong, to intercede on their behalf. Will Charles make enough right moves to end up getting the girl and the career he craves? In this story that feels like a tale culled from the golden age of movies, Clark has created a real Horatio Alger–type character in Charles. What Charles lacks in book learning, he makes up for by reading and listening to those in the know. He can also read people. In other words, Charles makes his own luck, albeit sometimes by accident. He is a protagonist readers can root for. The other well-rounded characters are the leaders of the Chinese tong; the players attached to the Irish mob are more one-dimensional. Clark has paced his narrative well, slow enough that Charles’ relationships can grow organically yet not too poky. The novel’s atmosphere also gives readers a good feel for what was a difficult time to grow up in New York City. The result is a colorful snapshot of one man’s mission to pursue his ambitions, whatever the obstacles.
An enjoyable tale that traces the unlikely rise of a good-hearted man surviving humble beginnings.