Comic and bawdy….a tremendous pleasure to read. -- Herbert Gold, author of The Man Who Was Not With It
One of our finest writers, with a polymorphous imagination, crack comic timing….his sentences are pure vernacular music, his voice unmistakable. -- Jonathan Lethem, author of You Don't Love Me Yet: A Novel
One of the most important writers in American literature…[his] work makes me truly happy to be a reader. -- Michael Chabon, author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
The first great Revolutionary War novel to appear in many decades. -- Tom Bissell, author of The Father of All Things
This imaginary tale is full of fantastic images and improbable happenings, but rendered believable and often poignant. -- Timothy Gilfoyle, author of City of Eros and The Pickpocket's Tale
“Bawdy, savage, and tender.” — Entertainment Weekly
“A breathless and poignant tour de force.” — Bookforum
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. This remarkable novel unfolds in a Manhattan split asunder by the Revolutionary War, where every street had been turned into a ditch. Here we follow the picaresque adventures of John Stocking, a double agent who has a talent for placing himself in jeopardy, and Charyn traces, at a breathless pace, his adventures on both sides of the Revolution, beginning with Gen. George Washington sparing Stocking from the gallows. With a superb eye for detail, Charyn shows Stocking's efforts to help the Revolutionary Army's ever-eroding hold on the city while coping with the machinations of the British Army's Howe brothers, Sir Billy and Lord Admiral Richard, as they execute their assault on the rebel forces. At the same time, Stocking is engaged in a journey to discover who his father is. Charyn provides a stunning gallery of characters, including an elegantly treacherous Alexander Hamilton; Stocking's guardian angel, the outrageous madam Gertrude Jennings; Gertrude's star prostitute, the exotic Clara; and Benedict Arnold, whom John calls the one hero I've ever had. Charyn's command of time and place is masterful: the reader can practically smell the gunpowder that suffuses the war-torn city. As a kaleidoscopic view of a tumultuous era, the book deserves to be spoken about in the same breath as E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime.
From The New Yorker
Set on Manhattan Island during the Revolutionary War, this leisurely picaresque concerns the adventures of an orphan reared in a brothel who loses an eye when he follows Benedict Arnold into battle. Johnny is a man of both nations; he joins up with Arnold as a secret agent for the British, but his admiration for him is genuine. His feelings are further complicated by his discovery that George Washington—here gentle, intelligent, and tortured by love for the brothel’s madam—may be his father, but ultimately his loyalty lies with his true love, an octoroon prostitute named Clara. Charyn skillfully breathes life into historical icons like Arnold, Washington, and Alexander Hamilton, and constructs a careful plot of shifting alliances, roving spies, and double-dealing.
*Starred Review* Never before has the American Revolution been so glorious or tawdry as it is in Charyn’s picaresque adventure of spies, harlots, and Founding Fathers. Wartime Manhattan provides the backdrop for the tale of young double (at least) agent John Stocking and his infatuation with the sharp-tongued “octoroon” Clara, the most ravishing whore in Manhattan’s most notorious brothel. Matching Johnny and Clara’s drama is the intrigue between Johnny’s mum, Gertrude, who runs the bordello, and the farmer-general George Washington, whose brooding bravura is a far cry from the wooden goody-goody found in history books. As Johnny infiltrates redcoat war rooms—which just so happen to be the same rooms Gertrude and her “nuns” occupy—the great Revolution plays out in miniature in dizzying allegiances and machinations behind both sides of the firing line. Filled as it is with bawdy episodes and magnificently imagined historical dignitaries, perhaps the most compelling facet is the simmering racial undercurrent, which Charyn delivers on the sly. With a wicked sense of humor and lively period prose, Charyn’s remarkably smart and definitely naughty novel repaints revolutionary America as a gleefully strange and tumultuous swirl of passions, adventure, and intrigue that anyone with an eye for great, lusty tales cannot afford to miss.