Jerome CharynAug 31, 2023
Ravage & Son
Bellevue Literary Press 2023
Ravage & Son (Bellevue Literary Press, 2023) by Jerome Charyn is a novel set in the Lower East Side of New York City in the early years of the twentieth century when it was America’s most crime-ridden and decadent neighborhood. Featuring an alluring cast of heroes, misfits, and monsters, Ravage & Son is part Jekyll and Hyde, part crime noir, part mystery novel, and ultimately an instant classic – a cinematic kaleidoscope that captures both the intense beauty and utter debauchery of humanity in this bygone era.
At the heart of the novel is the menacing Lionel Ravage, a heartbroken powerbroker hell bent on making the world pay for the loss of his soul mate, and his illegitimate son Ben, a poor boy educated at Harvard who becomes a downtown detective for the Kehilla, a quasi-police force slapped with the responsibility of cleaning up the Lower East Side’s layers of dirt and crime. The younger Ravage fights to protect, while his father yearns to burn it all to the ground. They share a deep wound and savage love that chains them together but is too agonizing to relive.
Jerome Charyn’s brilliance is in capturing the violence festering behind closed doors and in the streets as forces large and small work in unity to suck the marrow out of the Jewish neighborhood and its inhabitants. The author’s magnificent sentence-by-sentence style is marked both by an intensity and sensitivity that makes the dark tale more human and humane. It is as if Charyn is at war with the past, fully committed to its darkness, but delivering a source of light through his unmatched voice, the essential narrative delivered in what he calls his “music.” With touches of magical realism and an aura of mysticism, Charyn turns the Lower East Side into a portal for looking at that era and our own.
The author of more than 50 novels, biographies, histories, graphic novels, and collections, Charyn once proclaimed that his ultimate goal in writing novels has been “to make the reader cry...to break the reader’s heart.” With its stunning, unforgettable portrayal of the forces of light and darkness, Ravage & Son delivers on the author’s aim, presenting humanity in its fully formed depravity, but also capturing life’s poignancy.
The interview focuses on Ravage & Son, but Charyn and I discuss other aspects of his renowned career, including discussion of writing style, research, literary influences, and more. Charyn is arguably the most famous writer most readers have never heard of, a bestseller in France and other parts of Europe, and a true “writer’s writer” who continues to publish acclaimed books while being lauded by major authors including Joyce Carol Oates, Michael Chabon, Don DeLillo, and a long list of others. He is a distinctive voice in American literary history.
Bob Batchelor is an award-winning cultural historian and biographer. His latest books are Roadhouse Blues: Morrison, the Doors, and the Death Days of the Sixties and Stan Lee: A Life. Visit him on the web at www.bobbatchelor.com or email at firstname.lastname@example.org