by Jerome Charyn
God knows this book comes just in time. I've stared so long at Nate Silver's New York Times political blog, his stats dance before my eyes. The devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy boggles my mind and hurts my heart. A good break is sitting in the tub with Jerome Charyn's Under the Eye of God, a book swarming with the shenanigans of warring politicians and the plumb-crazy powerful.
Here's the scoop: A bare-knuckles presidential election is over, and the Democratic ticket of baseball czar J. Michael Storm and New York City Mayor Isaac Sidel has won. Since this is a Charyn novel, J. Michael and Isaac are hardly sprawling in comfy chairs sipping a glass of bubbly to celebrate "the slaughter of '88." Nope.
J. Michael, the President-elect, is facing a political Sandy of his own. He's holed up in the Waldorf while one mistress after another surfaces with demands to be paid off or else. The media are sniffing his crooked real estate deals and the phony corporation he'd formed with his wife Clarice. (Did you know our Constitution is silent on what happens if scandal derails a President after election but before confirmation by the electoral college? Strictly speaking, he's not really the President-elect at all.) Luckily for the Democrats, they have pictures of the defeated Republican incumbent, President Calder Cottonwood, pissing in the Rose Garden, and if the Republicans don't stop harping about Casanova (er, J. Michael), Democrats will play a little hardball. The Democrats have also bugged the White House. (Ah, but the crafty Republicans know about it and talk accordingly.) Cottonwood has plans for a smear campaign charging Isaac with Lolita tendencies because of his friendship with the President-elect's 12-year-old daughter, Marianna.
For those poor souls who have yet to meet Isaac Sidel, Under the Eye of God is a good place to start. It's the eleventh book in this unusual noir-ish series about the New York City cop turned commissioner turned mayor turned Vice President-elect; however, it stands on its own, and it's actually an easy introduction to Charyn's writing style. While it's hard to describe exactly what that style is, maybe I'd call it funky and sly. In musical terms, it's a jazz riff. It's not exactly postmodern stream-of-consciousness writing, but the journey is at least as important as the destination. If you seek a nonlinear plot, look elsewhere. I read Charyn's Isaac books in a purposefully relaxed way so I can go with the rhythm of the prose, and I keep a Wikipedia window open on my computer for looking up the many cultural references and names of famous architects, artists, political figures, criminals, and writers (NYC Mayor Seth Low, Tammany Hall's Big Tim Sullivan, and artist Mark Rothko are just a few).
Charyn is a literary writer who adores words, and his writing is very vivid ("His mouth sat crooked on his face, as if someone had sewn it there"). He often employs nicknames or descriptions in lieu of names, as if repeating a name is simply too boring. So rather than repetitions of "Isaac Sidel," it's the Big Guy, the Citizen, Citizen Sidel, the May baby, the Commish, the catcher of criminals, the philosopher clown, etc. Other characters are named in similar fashion.
Notes: Isaac and the crazy cast of Charyn characters are being made into an adult animated drama series called Hard Apple. The team behind it is the award-winning animators of Waltz with Bashir, the Cannes Film selection that also won a Golden Globe as Best Foreign Film.
Here's a mini-documentary about writer Jerome Charyn.
I received a free copy of Under the Eye of God, published by MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Media, and due out today. The French translation of Under the Eye of God is also coming out in France. (The French are die-hard Isaac Sidel fans. They can read a review in Le Figaro here.)