Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
  • Home
  • About
  • Archive
  • Bio Notes
  • Bookshelf
  • Contents
  • Submit
563 words
SHJ Issue 4
Fall 2011

Brooklyn NY: A Grim Retrospective
by Jerry Castaldo

Reviewed by Duff Brenna

Pink Cloud Publishing (2011)

Cover of Brooklyn NY: A Grim Retrospective By Jerry Castaldo

See also Amazon

Some years ago author James Brown ran into a childhood friend, who said to Brown, “Jesus, man, I thought you were dead.” Brown’s memoir, The Los Angeles Diaries, chronicles his wicked, wicked ways, a childhood and young manhood crammed with drugs and criminal behavior and narrow escapes. When I read Jerry Castaldo’s Brooklyn NY: A Grim Retrospective, I found myself experiencing the same sort of madness found in Brown’s book, the same fascinatingly insane territory.

Castaldo’s formative years in Brooklyn were filled with burglaries, brawls with gangs, Grand Theft Auto, drug and alcohol addiction, mob violence, car accidents, destruction of relationships and a continuous downward spiral that should have put him six feet under before he was out of his teens.

The book is swift, always full speed. It opens in the middle of a deadly fight. Sixteen-year-old Castaldo has a “large carpenter’s hammer” with which he is bashing the face of a man with a knife trying to stab Castaldo who eventually escapes. The next day his pals are calling him “Jerry the Hammer.” The hammer becomes his chosen weapon until one night a gang jumps him, strips him of the hammer and beats him with it. He ends up in the hospital and no longer wants to own a hammer. Does he learn anything else from his near fatal encounter? Not this kid.

He gets into stealing cars, joy-riding, picking up girls, drinking. Everything is a thrilling adventure, until one night he steals the wrong person’s car. “Someone who could make you disappear.” The car belongs to a mob boss. His henchmen track down Castaldo and bring him to the boss. Who says, “You stole my fuckin’ car, you son of a bitch!” Castaldo says he’s sorry. He didn’t mean to. He starts crying. The boss asks him his age. “Seventeen,” mumbles Castaldo. His age is probably what saved him.

The violence and mayhem continue and we are left to wonder how in the world did this guy survive all this stupidity? Not only survive but turn his life around later and thrive. For that’s what Castaldo ultimately did. He learned to play the guitar. He learned to sing and dance. He slowly taught himself to be an “entertainer.” It’s all in the book, so it must be true, right?

Actually, I’ve looked Castaldo up on-line and I’ve watched him perform. He’s witty, he’s funny, he has a so-so voice, he plays a mean guitar. Yeah, he’s likeable. And he looks nothing like the crack-brained hoodlum he used to be. He’s kicked his drug and alcohol problems. But he says he still fears that those old habits might come back and claim him. James Brown has those same worries as well. Clean and sober but the Damoclean Sword of addiction still hangs over his head, he says. Castaldo and Brown and how many others? Thousands? Millions?

Brooklyn NY: A Grim Retrospective is not great literature, but it is an incredible read—fast-paced, breathless, with a nice uplift at the end. If you know someone fighting the demons of drugs and drink and/or other self-destructive behaviors, buy him or her Castaldo’s and Brown’s memoires. Their riveting stories might make a difference. Stranger things have happened. People do what they do and very often we write them off. And then they turn around and fool us. Thumbs up, hoo-hah, and good for them.


SHJ Issue 4
Fall 2011

Duff Brenna

is the author of six novels, and recipient of an AWP Award for Best Novel (The Book of Mamie), a National Endowment for the Arts Award, a South Florida Sun-Sentinel Award for Favorite Book of the year (The Altar of the Body), a Milwaukee Magazine Best Short Story of the Year Award, and a Pushcart Honorable Mention.

Brenna’s stories, poems, and essays have appeared in Cream City Review, SQ, Agni, The Nebraska Review, The Literary Review, The Madison Review, New Letters, and numerous other literary venues. His work has been translated into six languages.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury