Jerome Charyn: Johnny One-Eye

I appreciated the craft that went into Johnny One-Eye, but I didn’t enjoy it very much. It’s not the sort of book I usually read, but I picked it up hoping it might be something of a cross between HBO’s John Adams and Barth’s The Sot-Weed Factor. It’s much more like the former than the latter — more history than satire.

Although the novel is named for its narrator, John Stocking, Charyn is principally interested in exploring George Washington in the Revolutionary War through a fictional device (although Stocking is literally missing an eye, perhaps the title is also meant to suggest that he views the war from a vantage that does not afford depth perception). Charyn attempts to humanize Washington by inventing peccadillos like an ongoing dalliance with a notorious Manhattan madam, but Washington is already in the process of being mythologized. Stocking, who believes he may be Washington’s illegitimate son, is in almost religious awe of him, whereas the British mockingly refer to him as the “farmer in chief.”

My main problem is just that I didn’t find Stocking a very congenial character with whom to spend a book. Charyn plays fair by historical rules, so fictional Stocking can’t really do anything that would leave an indelible mark on real history. He spends much of the book vacillating between sympathy with the British and with the colonists. This is rather novel in my experience, and probably not at all unrealistic, but it doesn’t stop it from becoming somewhat tiresome. Aside from his efforts to be executed by neither army, Stocking spends most of his time yearning for a beautiful prostitute, and in this venue he is similarly indecisive.

Charyn’s portrayal of war-torn Manhattan has an impressive authenticity, and that was my favorite aspect of this book.

needs more demons? I suspect people who spend more time reading American military history than I do might find this more intriguing than I did.

Published by therealsummervillain

likes: equality, making things easier to use, biking, jangle, distortion, monogamy dislikes: bigotry, policies that jeopardize people, lack of transparency

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