Synopsis of A Bronx Cheer
A Bronx Cheer is an historical literary novel set primarily in the nineteen fifties in The Bronx and Upper Manhattan. It is a modern retelling of the Jacob and Esau story from Genesis. The narrative that propels the story forward concerns the destruction of a neighborhood in the guise of progress. Jay and Eric, the sons of Ike (an Italian Jew), and Rebekeh, (a Mountain Jew), are estranged—as are their parents—and find themselves on opposite sides of a bitter struggle that pits those in power against the defenseless people of a local community.
The book is narrated by then twenty three year old Jay deVenezia, who says at the outset, “It was reported in the Daily Mirror that a New York City cop had stopped his car when he saw a woman trying to change a tire on the other side of the road, yelled over the top of the partially opened window that he was going to give her assistance, opened the door, swiveled his body out and then, well, was crushed by a car that sped by, dragging him underneath and ripping the door clear off the hinges; when I heard the news, I mouthed say good fucking farewell to Ike deVenezia.”
Eric has aligned himself with his father Ike, who by day is a cop—and at other times works surreptitiously for a construction company engaged in major projects transforming New York City—while his younger brother Jay is allied with his mother and with a neighborhood group fighting to preserve its very soul. Their fractious relationship is at the heart of the narrative, and speaks to the issues of how families split apart, and whether or not the pieces can ever be put back together.
A Bronx Cheer is a story of triumph over adversity (lies, theft, murder, concealment, prejudice) that is told with vivid descriptions, perceptive insights, humor and sensitivity, which enables the reader to identify with the characters who come to life in a realistic fashion to illustrate who we are, how we behave, and what causes us to change.
Populated by colorful Italian and Jewish characters from a variety of different backgrounds, the novel sparkles with dialogue that is representative of their respective cultures. While all of the main characters are fictional, appearances are made by New York City Mayor Robert Wagner, Tammany Hall boss Carmine DeSapio, New York Giants’ baseball team owner Horace Stoneham, and Robert Moses, the master builder of New York. All of the words and actions of these actual people are fictitious.
In addition, an important minor character is a therapist, who Jay is required to see for a period of time following his release from jail.
The book can be read on three levels: (1) The story of what it was like to have lived through the Depression and World War II era that emerged after 1945 into a society that was being altered almost unknowingly into something that would turn out to be significantly different in terms of social activism and ethnic politics; (2) A metaphor for what is going on in cities today, in terms of the conflicts between ‘ordinary people’ and the powerful politicians and business interests; and (3) How a Jewish family emerges from dysfunction to find its way despite daunting implacable obstacles in its way.
The manuscript is a work of complete fiction; there is neither a character nor a scene that is remotely related to anything that deals with the author, his family, friends or acquaintances.