The 18th century roars to vibrant, pungent life in Johnny One-Eye Jerome Charyn’s comic novel set during the American Revolution. At its center is young double agent John Stocking, known as Johnny One-Eye after an injury he received fighting for Benedict Arnold in Canada. Johnny, his mother — Mrs. Gert Jennings, a flame-haired, freckle-faced bordello queen — and a stunning young prostitute named Clara form an odd little family to whom George Washington himself grows ever attached.

Most of Charyn’s characters are imagined — with a few delightful exceptions, like Washington and Arnold, the latter portrayed as a quirky madman. But the author depicts a historically accurate Revolutionary War, albeit not one you’ve ever seen before. Johnny’s foppish misadventures in Manhattan, propelled by his admiration for Washington and his love for the vixenish Clara — a ”prophetic black and blond witch with a complection that was half coffee, half cream” — take him from Clara’s shoe closet to grungy grog houses. The city, decimated by the redcoat occupation, has become a place where ”British officers dined on blancmange while the rest of the population scrounged for scraps of food.” Yet despite the deprivation and bloodshed, Johnny One-Eye, in the great British tradition of picaresque novels, manages to be bawdy, savage, and tender. A-