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Dzanc Books is nonprofit press specializing in literary fiction and nonfiction. In addition to publishing activities, Dzanc Books also supports the Disquiet International Literary Program.

The Iron Will of Shoeshine Cats, by Hesh Kestin

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The Iron Will of Shoeshine Cats, by Hesh Kestin


The Iron Will of Shoeshine Cats, by Hesh Kestin


Publication Date: November 1, 2009
Paperback: 334 pages
ISBN: 978-0-976717-78-2
Trim: 8.6 x 6.4


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Jewish gangsters in 1960's New York City. A fast-paced, funny look at a time when America still seemed young and moving forward. A smart, young man is mentored by the gangster of his time.



"Cats is a TKO! . . .Kestin writes like Budd Schulberg—with sharp, quick, hard-nosed sentences, a ton of atmosphere, and a male gaze capable of withering granite. Best book I've read this year." —Jonathan Evison, author of All About Lulu

"Funny and compelling, Shoeshine Cats manages to illuminate the exciting beginnings of America’s sexual revolution. Hesh Kestin writes about strong women with admiration and appreciation.” —Dr. Ruth, psychosexual therapist

"In this smart and surprisingly poignant gangster story, Hesh Kestin peppers the stew with an unusual blend that's part American Graffiti, part Sopranos and part The Chosen." —Julie Salamon, author of The Devil's Candy and Hospital

"Hesh Kestin's book, The Iron Will of Shoeshine Cats, is a wonderful read on a subject which has not been explored so thoroughly in some time, Jewish gangsters wreaking havoc a half century ago is a bas relief for the hero's poignant coming of age. Russel Newhouse is a witty, feisty and perceptive young man, grappling with his own identity through the strange polyglot world he inhabits. Kestin has written an unusual novel which reads like the wind." —Lucinda Franks, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of My Father's Secret War


"From the author of the short fiction collection Based on a True Story comes a vibrant, hilarious addition to the genre of mob tragicomedy. Twenty-year-old Russell Newhouse, a quick-witted scholar and skirt-chaser, has New York’s organized crime scene thrust upon him by a man called Shushan “Shoeshine” Cats, who interrupts a meeting of a Brooklyn Jewish men’s society where Russell is serving as secretary. Shushan is in need of a favor and promptly takes Russell under his wing. What ensues is a classic boy-meets-mob story: part noir, part comedy, part epic. Kestin’s richly layered characters—a monstrously obese German organized crime attorney named Frit von Zeppelin, a Jewish Texan who speaks in malapropisms, a dentist who anglicizes or Yiddishizes his name depending on his mood—are straight out of Dickens; his vivid attention to the details of place, New York, and time, 1963, is like poetic journalism; and his snappy, concise prose and dialogue is on par with Raymond Chandler. Kestin zips through Russell’s sexual trysts, dealings in back rooms of Little Italy restaurants, and encounters with historical events like the JFK assassination with unflagging humor and insight." —Publishers Weekly starred review

"The Iron Will of Shoeshine Cats is an unexpected pleasure, a light novel (a little zingy with its cliff-hanger sentences and a little pulpy with its sex scenes) by a smart writer." The Stranger

"Consider the multitudes of stories written about gangsters and it’s fair to say the world of new fiction is lucky to count Kestin in its ranks. Here is a writer who knows how to follow his own advice, to write work that matters, and to craft it not in floral prose but literary iron—forty-seven jabs, not a word or action wasted." Fiction Writers Review

"This novel will make readers laugh, sigh, think - and remember. It is unequivocally one terrific read." Washington Jewish Week

"The Iron Will of Shoeshine Cats just may be the best book you never read.  Think The Godfather on laughing gas, or Catch-22 with guns. It's also as good a novel about life in the 60s as you'll ever pick up. Witty, sexy, thrilling, and all story. You can't put the damn thing down. If you're still one of the blessed who reads for pleasure, get this book, because it's a pleasure to read."--Stephen King