Perhaps no contemporary writer has created so many distinct literary voices and so complex a set of fictional worlds as Jerome Charyn. In his more than twenty novels, Charyn has exploded the confines of traditional genres, such as the historical novel, the romance, and the detective novel, earning him comparisons to Stanley Elkin and Vladimir Nabokov. Charyn's expansion of genres has been not only in formalistic terms, but also in his shaping of characters and his profusion of narrative voices. Drawing on the Jerome Charyn Papers and on the extensive collection of printed books in the Fales Library, this exhibition celebrates Charyn's career to date by demonstrating the breadth of his work and the variety of worlds he has created.
From his very earliest works, such as Once Upon a Droshky, Charyn reveals attention to language. In these novels, the world of New York's Jewish neighborhood is conjured in vivid detail, revealing the moral complexities of the characters, many of whom are caught between their traditional ethnic ways and the challenges of the modern world. In Eisenhower, My Eisenhower, and The Tar Baby, Charyn began using a more experimental style. The Tar Baby stands as one of the great postmodern novels, with its complex layering of voices and decentered narrative. With the publication of Blue Eyes, his first detective novel, we see Charyn bring his mastery of voice, his love of New York City, and his powerful ability to mythologize his characters to bear on this very traditional genre. The novels that compose the "Isaac Quartet" and the "Odessa Quartet" have enlarged the possibilities for detective fiction. Charyn brings a similar approach to other genres. The Catfish Man: A Conjured Life complicates the very idea of writing fiction when the author is the narrator, but the world presented is written as a mock-autobiography. A similar theme arises in Pinocchio's Nose, where the main character is "Jerome Copernicus Charyn" who suffers from "Mythopsychosis," or the need to mythologize everything around him. Historical writing undergoes a transformation in Eisenhower, My Eisenhower. Whether it is the Wild West of Darlin' Bill, the Lower East Side of Panna Maria, Alphabet City in War Cries Over Avenue C, or New York's dark underbelly where its difficult to tell the criminals from the policemen as in Montezuma's Man, Charyn's novels continue to explore alternative worlds and genres. Constant through all these works, however, is the attention to language, the mastery of voice, and the complexity of characterization that defines Charyn's style.
The following exhibition represents the first time the Charyn Papers have been displayed since they came to New York University in 1993. The manuscripts, typescripts, first editions, and translations of Charyn's works provide a visual presentation of the literary worlds he creates. As the numerous translations prove, Charyn has a wide following in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece and Japan, as well as the United States. We are also very fortunate for this exhibition to have on loan from the artist Bascove original oil paintings and sketches she has done for the covers of many of Charyn's works [not part of the electronic exhibition]. These artworks, done in conjunction with Charyn, offer visual representation of the gods, demigods, demons, and tarnished saints that inhabit the novels.