Friday, March 31, 2023

35. Cry Tough! by Irving Shulman

Cry Tough! is Irving's sequel to his huge juvenile delinquency hit The Amboy Dukes.  I found this beautiful but moldy and cracking Avon second printing at the record store on Roy that I have to go back to.  I would not have considered it such an exciting find, had I not already read The Big Brokers, the third in the Amboy Dukes saga, which I really enjoyed. Shulman wrote and published the first 3 in succession from 1949-51 and then wrote a fourth book with the same character, The Devil's Knee, in 1973, his last book.  That is on my list.

Cry Tough is a transition novel.  The main character is Mitch Wolf, who was a secondary character in The Amboy Dukes, as were Larry (the boss) and Bull (the muscle).  Mitch gets out of reformatory after almost two years, and the reader gets a quick reminder of what happened in the first book.  Mitch is mixed-up now, having no clear idea of what he wants to do.  This ambivalence evolves into the classic two paths, where he can go legit, become an apprentice cutter thanks to his dad's connections in the garment trade or try to find some angles and make the big money.  Even that latter, though, is no sure or quick ride as Mitch perceives he would most likely be in the employ of someone making real money while he takes all the risks.  There are a lot of great scenes of Mitch's family, his parents dialogue though very real reminds us of George Costanza's parents, with the arguing and old world diction.  Mitch's sister is engaged to a cop, whom Mitch refuses to acknowledge and this causes the initial stress in the family.

Ironically, it is in the garment trade where Mitch makes his real connection, as he luckily gets invited by his boss to go to dinner with Itzik Yanowitz the gangster who "protects" the Lucky Doll Clothing company.   Here he meets Joyce, the beautiful young prostitute, who will become a key player in the Big Brokers.  As Mitch moves up in Yanowitz's confidence, gets in deeper with Joyce, while dating good girl (and cousin to his sister's cop beau) Dorothy, his own internal tensions work harder on him.  The stress and anxiety that ends up destroying Mitch in The Big Brokers gets its birth here.

Much of the success of these novels, I suspect, comes from the legitimacy that was bestowed upon them by various moralists who gave the book a stamp of approval.  It's not exploitative, but it's pretty rough and I think a lot of law-abiding citizens who wouldn't be caught dead reading Swamp Girl thought they could get away with going into the sewer with Shulman. Honestly, after the first one, I don't find these books that moralizing at all.  They just feel realistic.  Cry Tough! has an ambivalent ending, though painful in that he separates from his family. It doesn't feel, though, that if Mitch had made the "right" choice, he would have been that much happier either.

The book ends with him, Joyce, Larry and Bull heading out to Las Vegas to take over the club that will be the main storyline in the Big Brokers.  I kind of wish I had read them in order, as after finishing this one, I now want to re-read the next one.

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