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Allrightniks Row (1923)

de Samuel Ornitz

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This novel portrays people born in the tenements who fight their way out of the slums to make it to the fashionable Allrightniks Row. Its characters include a corrupt judge whose gross obesity has made him the Haunch Paunch and Jowl in the newspapers' cartoons.
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Although originally published in 1923 as "An Anonymous Autobiography," Haunch Paunch and Jowl is a stream-of-consciousness novel, set in the teeming Lower East Side of late 19th-early 20th century New York City, amid the struggling Jewish immigrant community.

The novel takes us through the life and times of Meyer Hersch. We first see him as a 9-year old in a crowded tenement house with a father dying from the diseases of the garment sweat shops and an uncle with dreams of overcoming their oppressive environment. As Meyer grows through teens and into manhood, always with the eye on the main chance and none too fastidious about how he gets ahead, we are taken on a tour of this world of the streets and get to listen in as anarchist argues with Socialist who argues with capitalist and so forth. Corruption and violence are accepted parts of life here, but there is beauty and occasionally high mindedness, as well.

The writing is quick and engaging, sometimes quite entertaining indeed. There's a bit of dimension to the protagonist, as well. And while I've read of Ornitz described as sort of a Jewish Upton Sinclair, this book is nowhere near as graphic as The Jungle. While this book doesn't go into great depth, the picture it draws is a very interesting one, all in all. Ornitz's own story, as you can see below, is quite interesting, as well.

I picked up this book in goodness knows what thrift store or antique shop somewhere along the line (my LT entry date for the volume is May 2008) just because it was a cool old book (my edition is a Sixth Printing: March 1924) and pulled it off my shelf to read this week mostly at random. I started doing some online research about the book, and found an essay about the book and its author by none other than Harvey Pekar published on the website Metroactive.com in 1997.

Pekar's column begins thusly:

"IF ANYONE remembers Samuel Ornitz at all today, it's as a screenwriter who was one of the Hollywood 10; his reputation as a novelist didn't survive the 1920s. Despite the neglect, Ornitz is a significant literary figure whose work deserves to be kept in print and read by anyone who cares about the evolution of the American novel.

Born in 1890, Ornitz is a link between Yiddish-speaking, foreign-born American novelists such as Anzia Yezierska and Abraham Cahan, who were mainstream stylists, and the daring Jewish fiction writers of the 1930s: Daniel Fuchs, Nathanael West and Henry Roth.

Ornitz belonged to a forgotten avant-garde movement that employed stream-of-consciousness techniques before the 1922 publication of James Joyce's Ulysses brought the method to general attention."

The rest of the column in here: http://www.metroactive.com/papers/metro/08.14.97/cover/lit6-9733.html
It's quite interesting! ( )
  rocketjk | Jan 17, 2011 |
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This novel portrays people born in the tenements who fight their way out of the slums to make it to the fashionable Allrightniks Row. Its characters include a corrupt judge whose gross obesity has made him the Haunch Paunch and Jowl in the newspapers' cartoons.

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