Saturday, June 27, 2009
The Lost Legends of New Jersey
From Publishers Weekly
Elegiac and unsparingly direct, funny and poignant, this second novel by the author of the well-received The Odd Sea is a beautiful story about loss, hope and survival. Between the summer of 1979, when Anthony Rubin is 13, and the winter of 1983, when he is a hockey star in high school, he experiences the breakup of his parents' marriage, loses a close friend, falls in love several times and moves through adolescence with a mixture of yearning and rue. On the one hand, Anthony has grown up fast: his emotionally volatile mother, Jess, has a nervous breakdown because of his father's adultery and leaves the family home in Livingston, N.J., for Florida. Anthony has a sense that good things in his life are already a part of the past. He always sees the present moment at a distance, so he can capture and preserve it in memory. On the other hand, he is slow to mature; afraid of being rebuffed, he is shy with girls. Two astute and kind teenagers intuit his need for mothering. An "older woman," Alex Brody, the senior manager of the hockey team, seduces him so he can lose his virginity, and his next door neighbor, Juliette diMiglio becomes his friend and sex partner. While all the characters are drawn with warmth, Juliette will haunt the reader. Her mother commits suicide; her crude, abusive father is regularly beat up by loan sharks; Juliette herself submits to her boyfriend's sadistic behavior and earns a reputation as a slut. Juliette is trapped in the circumstances of her life; Anthony will rise above them. But it is his grandfather, who at 81 meets his b'shert (a Yiddish word that means your fated spiritual other half), who teaches Anthony that he must wait for love. There are some wonderful, almost dreamlike set pieces in this novel, as when Anthony and friends discover a graveyard for musical instruments in the Meadowlands. If Reiken has a fault, it is endowing his characters with feelings that they immediately interpret into emotional insights. At times the psychologizing seems manipulated; too often characters get a mystical feeling that "something had shifted" inside, lifting them to a new stage of understanding. But these are small cavils in a narrative in which separation and loss are palpable, yet faith in survival is conveyed with a sweet but unsentimental clarity. Reiken's message is in a passage from the kabbala: even in the deepest sadness, one can find "sublime joy."
Well, that pretty much says it all. Although I’m still wondering how this one ended up on my bookshelf. I’m pretty sure I bought it and then forgot about it, but it doesn’t seem like a book I would normally buy. Oh well…at least it was worth it.