Page 25 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 45

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powers o f observation have sometimes turned him into an effect­
ive satirist, Charyn has remained charitable and compassionate.
Though aware of follies and foibles, he doesn’t forget that he is
dealing with human beings, however absurd, dishonest, even
repellent their actions.
The very versatility of his talent has been Charyn’s most formi­
dable enemy. He has tried too desperately to be inventive and, in
the process, has often let his imagination get the better of him.
While this sometimes uncontrolled inventiveness exudes a cer­
tain charm and elicits many a chuckle, it can grow wearisome and
at times enigmatic. It is often difficult to fathom his meanings or
to comprehend his conclusions, if any. His characters have pica­
resque adventures that take them from New York gangsterdom
to Atlantic City hotels for whores, to Wild Bill Hickok country,
Louisiana swamps, and other bizarre settings. Yet it is clear that,
as for most of our writers, Charyn’s heart belongs to New York.
There are especially frequent returns to the Bronx of the 1940’s.
It is doubtful that in spite of an astounding virtuosity in a prolific
body of work, Charyn ever again equalled the work that first
brought his name to public attention, his 1964 accomplishment in
Once Upon a Droshky.
Finally, there is the unique case of Seymour Epstein, virtually
unknown among Jewish readers. Epstein may well be the finest
craftsman and yet the most natural and spontaneous writer of the
group, a man with exceptional narrative speed and a well-
controlled imagination. But Epstein is also that unusual Jewish
writer who does not deal in the main with intellectuals and who
has retained a positive though not uncritical sympathy for the
bourgeoisie. In many ways, Epstein dares to be what critics do not
find intriguing — a conservative, a realist, a straight story teller.
That he often brilliantly reflects and comments on the human
condition in books that are hard to put down is at best a mitigating
circumstance for symbol-hunting critics.
Epstein’s protagonists are fallible, forgiving, self-demanding,
generous. They are puzzled by what life has doled out to them,
what burdens they have been asked to carry, and how they can rid
themselves of them without losing their dignity in the process.
The big city loneliness of Leah, the befuddlement of David
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