by Sol Yurick
Written in 1965 and based on the Anabasis by Xenophon, this brutal portrayal of gang culture in 1960s New York is a harrowing and often extremely moving read.
It’s a sweltering evening on July 4th and six members of the Coney Island Dominators are on their way back home from a gathering of New York gangs in the Bronx. Their leader may or may not have been killed (the boys didn’t hang around to find out) so while they jostle for leadership among themselves they have to pass through the perilous territory of other gangs. Barely literate, they hardly even know the ins and outs of the subway system in this part of Manhattan and get lost in the warren of up trains and down trains.
Their odyssey is a dangerous one. Fired up with testosterone, when they do encounter members of other gangs it ends in violence and rape. Innocent members of the public also succumb to their savagery with absolutely shocking results. The quest for reputation, manhood and the boys’ burgeoning sexuality is a volatile mix. What is exceptionally disturbing is that some of them are just fourteen or fifteen years old. We get insights into individual characters' sense of isolation, appalling backgrounds and their desperate need to be a part of something they can call family.
Sol Yurick was a youth worker, working with young gang members who were the inspiration for this story and it highlights the disaffection those young men felt. If your group is interested in these themes and making comparisons with the problems facing some of our young people today (for example those seeking jihad) it would certainly provoke a lot of discussion. This was a difficult read in content and style. I would say it was worth it, but be warned it is very unsettling.
Published by Souvenir Press (with an afterword by the author who died in 2013) – 212 pp.