daniel fuch’s the brooklyn novels


Daniel Fuchs’s trilogy, generally known in its omnibus form as The Brooklyn Novels, is comprised of Summer in Williamsburg, Homage to Blenholt, and Low Company. The first two novels are set mainly in and around the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, and chronicle the lives of the residents of Ripple Street; the third is set primarily in Neptune Beach, a seaside resort based on Brighton Beach and Coney Island.


Fuchs said of these novels that:


I used to go on long walks…take in the street sights at night. I freely used the sights and happenings in the three novels I wrote in my 20s: Summer in Williamsburg (1934), Homage to Blenholt (1936), and Low Company (1937). . . . I had ‘ideas’ for each of these books, but I soon tired of them, ideas being—for me, at any rate—unsatisfactory. I abandoned them . . . and devoted myself simply to the tenement: the life in the hallways, the commotion at the dumbwaiters, the assortment of characters in the building, their strivings and preoccupations, their troubles in the interplay of sexes. There was always a ferment, slums of no slums. The slums didn’t held them down.*


John Updike "Nobody else writes like Daniel Fuchs. I think of him as a natural—a poet who never had to strain after a poetic effect, a magician who made magic look almost too easy" (in Picked-Up Pieces, 1975).



*from http://www.blacksparrowbooks.com/titles/fuchs.htm

Cover Image



From Summer in Williamsburg, the cityscape of Brooklyn:


Inland the tenements seemed abandoned and resembled for the day ruins of an early time. On summer weekdays and nights there were always hundreds of people thronging the streets and a constant flow of traffic. The emptiness now took on all a stranger significance by contrast. The grocery and butcher stores, closed by municipal law, had their green blinds drawn in front of their windows. A candy store here and there dozed in the mid-afternoon heat until the subways restored its customers. A pair of ice picks, hanging neglected over the iron railing of a tenement basement, indicated that here at other times Italian icemen did a noisy, open-air business. A few sleepy cats nosed deliberately in cans of garbage for scraps. An old woman shuffled down the street, and this completed the effect of lifelessness. (p 42)


The thoughts of Summer’s protagonist, 20-year-old Philip Hayman, an aspiring writer:


People did not live in dramatic situations. You might even isolate some event in their lives, extract its drama, and labor over it according to the rules, but in the end you would still have an incomplete portrait of them, it would be unfaithful to the whole. Even by isolating one episode there was exaggeration. The trouble with writers was that they knew too much. They made life too simple. They could say of the women at their carriages in the sunshine that they rose at ten, made their hurried breakfasts, tidied the rooms, went downstairs, bought candy and soda water, gossiped, went to the movies, and made delicatessen suppers for their husbands; a writer could say that and get away with it, but it wouldn’t be the whole thing. They could say that Cohen was a nut who tried to commit suicide because his head was growing bald, that Philip’s father was an old Chinaman who hadn’t been around, that Tessie was one of those girls who live by The New Yorker, they could say that Philip himself was an adolescent in the agonies of awakening inquiry, in the stage when one was occupied with gaudy abstractions like life, meaning, and the grave. They could say that and be sufficiently understood, but it wasn’t enough, it wasn’t the whole thing. What was all the excitement about? Philip asked himself. Literature was not reality. That was all there was to it. Writers who said otherwise were fakers, claiming more than they could do. A book was an artificial synthesis, the product of a man’s idea, to illustrate through his stress on characters and situations certain principles in which he was interested. Take Ripple Street, with Halper’s Stable, Yozowitz’s laundry, the Auburn SC, the life on the roofs, in the cellars and in lots, Davey and his gang, Miller, Mrs. Linck and her family, Cohen, his own father and mother, Mahler and Yente Maldick, together with the hundreds of other persons who lived in the tenements on the block; take Ripple Street with the merry-go-rounds in the sunshine, the Italians coming down the street with cheap ice-cream bricks in the small carts; take the whole of Ripple Street from morning to night and back again; take it and reproduce it faithfully and you would have a great formless mass of petty incident, the stale product of people who were concerned completely with the tremendous job of making a living so that tomorrow they would be able to make a living another day. Everything here was petty. Love was a hot joke, a soiled business in worn bedsheets, a sedative interlude in the omnipresent struggle of making a living. There was never time enough. Poetry and heroism did not exist, but the movies did. People in tenements lived in a circle without significance, one day the duplicate of the next until the end, which occurred without meaning but accidentally, cutting the procession short as pointlessly as Cohen’s life had been cut. People were born, grew tired and calloused, struggled and died. That was all, and no book was large enough to include the entire picture, to give the completely truthful impression, the exact feeling. (p 355-356)



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