A Review of Ron Kolm's Duke & Jill

by James H Duncan

When I first met Ron Kolm and began listening to him read his Duke & Jill stories at various venues around NYC, it struck me how these dynamic street-urchins and drug-popping trouble magnets could almost be comical and cartoonish in today’s hyperactive, click-bait, irony-infused culture, if mishandled by the wrong author. Because tales of old-school New York and its widespread filth, crime, and bumming around are as much a fantasy to today’s city dwellers as anything Disney could create. However, getting to know Ron really helped drive home the fact that these stories are authentic New York slices of life, offered without any sort of wink-and-nod exploitative subtext...and yet perhaps they are also fantasy tales of a their own sort, stories of what once was and will never be again, at least not on the scale that artists like Ron remember it.

For the most part, today’s millennial and trust-funder denizens see the city as an entertainment and party mecca, with chain stores galore and old New York quickly phased out or made safe (or safer than it was). We all read about how this dive bar or that bookshop closed for yet another Citi Bank or frozen yogurt shop, gym, or condo skyrise, so none of this modern New York description is a revelation to anyone. But these stories of Ron’s show the bedrock this new glimmering city is built upon, a city many New York long-timers knew as a dirty yet endearing cultural melting pot where artists, criminals, entrepreneurs, the homeless, the talented, and the lost all jostled elbow to elbow on every city block. And yeah, scenes of NYC in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s sometimes look like something out of a dystopian film about garbage men fighting giant rats and sewer 'gators, but at least there was an authenticity to it that we’re reminded of in these stories by Ron.

These stories ARE funny without being cartoonish. They’re shocking and raw without pandering or going over the top. They’re revealing in how much one had to struggle to get by in New York when one COULD struggle AND get by in New York. And I don’t mean struggle as in the train took forever getting to work and the Starbucks line was too long and one homeless guy last week asked you for change. I mean selling your few possessions on a blanket on a street corner and going home to a bombed-out shell of a building to find someone stole what little else you had and on your way home from buying a new door lock you get mugged of that too. That’s a goddamn struggle, but people like Duke and Jill got by, and had crazy tales to tell, and drank too much, and were gritty and real and funny and tragic.

And yes, this all might sound like a glorification of a place that wasn’t all that fun to live in and was pretty scary sometimes, but there was a truth to that. You knew what NYC was then. You knew what you were getting into. There was no pretense. Now? It sometimes feel like it’s all just slapdash makeup, pop singers and TV moguls, a siren song that lures you in to an island city that isn’t quite what it was and isn’t quite what it purports to be. The city can still be a great place to live and work but it will never be nearly as genuine as what you’ll find in Ron’s stories. If for that reason alone, a book like Duke & Jill is important to read and share with fellow artists and writers struggling to get by. I highly recommend it.     

Duke & Jill is available from Unknown Press and on Amazon.  


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The views and opinions expressed throughout belong to the individual artists and may or may not coincide with those of the other artists (or editors) represented within the magazine. Hobo Camp Review supports a free-for-all atmosphere of artistic expression, so enjoy the poetry, fiction, opinions, and artwork within, read with an open mind, and comment wisely. Thanks for stopping by the Camp!