If you haven’t already perused the post Free Stuff And A Worry, But Free Stuff All The Same! you may want to check that out first for a bit of background on this review, for the rest of you I shall begin post-haste:
A Powerful first novel of a young man who “finds himself” by way of overcoming unexpected challenges: his exploits, his adventures, his redemption. A love story as well – with a cast of poignant New York characters who come together to weave a charming yet dramatic story.
Recently the popularity of e-books and self published works has ballooned and when my mind turned to thinking of such things, I had in mind an image of the old penny dreadfuls (the 19th century serialised magazines that came out once a week for a penny, which were a cheaper alternative to the more expensive works featuring Dickens et al, not surprisingly the work was of poorer quality) whenever the topic was brought up. Perhaps that idea is a true representation of the state of play and perhaps not, who am I to judge after reading just one book?
Up in the Bronx is unashamedly American, here we have the classic New York, the New York you recognise off TV and silver screen, the same feel and vibe but with one difference, reading through the book I got a more personal and affecting slant than other media is able to convey. As the author grew up there it isn’t any real surprise of course but it does allow for a more affecting read and allowed this reader to plunge straight in and experience first hand the vibrancy surrounding The locale.
Not only are we brought into the world, but also the colloquial speech, of the ‘Bronxians’, which did take a few pages to get used too, sometimes rereading words until I started using a NY voice in my head, then things became a lot easier, similarly there is a bit of NY jargon as well but fears of it being impenetrable to a town dweller from England came to nothing, there is enough used to keep the realism going without overloading and bewildering people not used to the American system, unlike, say Stephen King who piles on the name dropping with reckless abandon. The only thing that did break the flow however was the use of Jewish words which I had no understanding of and checking them out broke the flow of the book, this is not a major problem, the book can be read without any referencing but being a completest I felt I had to find out what each one meant.
Despite any sort of language problems that may slow down the first few pages I found this book really easy to get into, every event that takes place no matter how dramatic is done with subtlety rather than in a drastic way. The understatedness of the whole book seems by definition to be the antithesis of the big, brash, noisy, violently coloured city of cliché. It’s a clever juxtaposition, playing with the view the world holds of New York.
Another interesting take the author employs, certainly on this reader, is that I didn’t want bad things to happen to the characters, however morally reprehensible some of their actions arguably are, I found myself liking the characters and sympathising with their life choices. Each character is alone in their individual ways with a gulf between themselves, others and the outside world at large which seems to echo how life is becoming in the 21st century.
I noticed many themes in the book, references to light, fading, artificial and natural which would seem to me to be a metaphor for the value of religion to each of the protagonists against a backdrop of their lives seemingly being devoid of a purpose even with their various beliefs. The cycle of the seasons play a huge part too echoing the change of the characters feelings and lives, the NY breeze mentioned throughout sounding the winds of change, hinting at disparate ways of moving on.
In short this book appears to me as partly a celebration of those special amazing moments in life and the drama and tough moments that all mix to enrich our existence and make for emotive reminiscences in years to come, a reassurance that we are indeed infused with life. Couple that with a healthy disdain for society’s modern cultural values which come through strongly towards the end but also the feeling of hope and you have for one poignant read.
Nostalgia and love ooze out of this book and I for one enjoyed it immensely and read through it in a fairly small amount of uninterrupted hours. I expected many things to happen which didn’t and this was a nice change from the usual predictable fare that is on the market. If asked would I read more or Mr Baum’s work? Then yes I most certainly will.