Sol Yurick Biography
Nationality: American. Born: New York City, 1925. Education: New York University, A.B. 1950; Brooklyn College, New York, M.A. 1961. Military Service: Served in the United States Army, 1944-45. Career: Librarian, New York University, 1945-53; social investigator, New York City Department of Welfare, 1954-59. Since 1959 fulltime writer. Lives in Brooklyn, New York. Awards: Guggenheim fellowship, 1972. Agent: Georges Borchardt Inc., 136 East 57th Street, New York, New York 10022, U.S.A.
The Warriors. New York, Holt Rinehart, 1965; London, W.H. Allen, 1966.
Fertig. New York, Simon and Schuster, and London, W.H. Allen, 1966.
The Bag. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1968; London, Gollancz, 1970.
An Island Death. New York, Harper, 1975.
Richard A. New York, Arbor House, and London, Methuen, 1982.
Someone Just Like You. New York, Harper, 1972; London, Gollancz, 1973.
Editor, Voices of Brooklyn: An Anthology. Chicago, American Library Association, 1973.
Tanument Library, New York University.
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Taken singly, each of Sol Yurick's works constitutes a substantial contribution to the growing body of contemporary fiction that depicts the American megalopolis in perpetual crisis. Taken together, his novels make up the most compelling vision available to us (in fiction or in non-fiction) of the most nightmarish megalopolis of all: New York now. Yurick is (as surely befits someone who was involved for several years in attempting to construct a sound theoretical and practical base for action on the American left) not interested in formal experimentation in the novel for the novel's own sake. Yet neither is he a polemicist with little sense of artistic form. He is an extreme rarity: a social critic with broad theoretical and "street level" experience. Yet, he is at the same time an erudite novelist with solid historical knowledge of the genre and great skill in handling the form. In a deliberate and obviously self-conscious way, he consistently attempts to close the gap between the biblical and classical Greek world so often alluded to in his works and the world of welfare, of murder, and of political power plays, the three major elements in his portrait of New York today.
The Warriors is a novel about a decimated New York teenage gang whom we first met on hostile "turf" on their way back to their "homeland" after a gang conference which has just ended in attempted murder. The opening scene is prefaced by an epigraph drawn from Xenophon: "My friends, these people whom you see are the last obstacle which stops us from being where we have so long struggled to be. We ought, if we could, to eat them up alive." The anabasis of Hinton (the gang artist), Lunkface, Bimbo, The Junior, and Hector is filled with memories of Ismael, leader of the Delancey Thrones, organizer of the citywide gang conference, and victim of the violence with which the conference had come to an abrupt close. "Ismael," we are told, "had the impassive face of a Spanish grandee, the purple-black color of an uncontaminated African, and the dreams of an Alexander, a Cyrus, a Napolean." He will return in The Bag as a saturnine figure (now with only one eye), a dope pusher, rent collector for a slum landlord (Faust), and stockpiler of rifles, waiting for that moment when the downtrodden of the city will rise up and use these arms to kill their ancient oppressors. Ismael is not alone in his reappearance. Though seemingly selfcontained when read singly, the novels (much like those of Faulkner) shade from one into another. The gang artist, Hinton in The Warriors, reappears, for instance, as a major figure in The Bag. Hinton's mother, Minnie (permanently on welfare and having a new "lover"), and his brother the addict, Alonso, minor figures at the end of Hinton's anabasis, also return but now as full-fledged characters in The Bag.
In contrast to the lower depths of The Warriors and part of The Bag, Fertig appears at first to be an exploration of a strictly middle-class New York Jewish milieu. But the death of Fertig's son as a result of indifference on the part of the staff of a New York hospital triggers such a paroxysm of grief that Fertig cold-bloodedly murders some seven people involved however tenuously in his son's death. As mass murderer, Fertig is then thrust into the company of the criminals, madmen, and junkies who populate Yurick's other two novels. We are also given our first view of the political elite of this mythical New York: Judge Mabel Crossland whose thighs have encompassed every prominent jurist in New York in her climb to the judgeship; Fertig's lawyer, Royboy, the small but handsome sexual athlete, with multiple obligations to his female admirers (including Mabel Crossland) on his way to becoming Senator Roy, a character whom we then meet in The Bag; and Irving Hockstaff, king-maker, the man who indirectly runs the whole political apparatus of the city. A pawn in the political games of the mighty. Fertig and Fertig's trial are painfully reminiscent of An American Tragedy.
The evocation in Fertig of another classic work of literature is an integral part of Yurick's aesthetic and political methodology. The book is shaped as a contemporary replay of a recurrent phenomenon; the destruction of "the little man" by the power elite. Fertig's name comments ironically on a phenomenon that never ends. Likewise Ismael and Faust in The Bag are conscious restatements on a theme as old as poverty. Minnie (referred to by Yurick as a black Cybele and as the Wyf of Bath) loves Alpha (Fertig or Omega's opposite?) who has left his wife, Helen. They share the world with Faust (a figure drawn not only from Goethe but from Kosinski's The Painted Bird), with Faust's daughter, the lesbian Eve, and with Faust's ambitious urban renewal project: Rebirth. Finally, Rebirth and all the little men and women are crushed as the ghetto detonates despite the best efforts of the man from Agape (love, affection), the master of the government's counter-insurgency game plan. We know with Yurick at the end of The Bag (though it is never explicitly stated) that the future of this city that is all cities lies not with the Ismael's and others who seek social improvement but with the Royboys and the Hockstaffs. It is they who seem to believe: "It didn't matter how many people you killed so long as you contained it [the revolution] and cooled it and co-opted it and made it run smoothly." So it has always been says Yurick and so it will be: Alpha and Agape are Omega and Fertig. The end of Ismael in The Bag returns us not only to Ismael at the beginning of The Warriors but to the ancient admonition drawn from the Anabasis. The "homeland" lies permanently within sight but beyond reach. There is some doubt that, all his aesthetic skill and political acumen notwithstanding, Yurick will ever get us any closer, but his portrayal of anabasis itself is worthy of comparison with its ancient counterpart.
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