Lost Legends of New Jersey ~ Frederick Reiken ~ 1/01 ~ Fiction/Author Event
October 23, 2000 - 12:06 pm

Please join us throughoutJanuary for our Fiction Author/Event and discussion of
The Lost Legends of New Jersey.
Frederick Reiken, also author of The Odd Sea, has already joined our discussion earlier to talk about his book and respond to our questions.

The Lost Legends of New Jersey has been reviewed in

The New York Times, The Washington Post (no longer available), The Philadelphia Inquirer as well as at BookPage and in Time Magazine

Interviews: Borders Bold Type Publishers Weekly

Frederick Reiken homepage Essay: The Power of Place Read a Chapter

Final Thoughts - Final Chapter: The Lost Legends of New Jersey (Pages 302-312)

7% of your purchase price will be donated to SeniorNet!
Discussion Leader: CharlieW

Authors who've participated in Books discussions

October 23, 2000 - 12:57 pm
Frederick Reiken, the author of two very well received novels, is an Assistant Professor in the Writing, Literature and Publishing Department at Emerson College here in Boston. Mr. Reiken has agreed to join us in January as we discuss his newest novel:
The Lost Legends of New Jersey
. Why not read about the book and Mr. Reiken through the links provided above? Then join us here in January for a discussion of the book. Don't miss this opportunity.

October 29, 2000 - 07:34 am
Charlie - count me in - this looks like a good read.

October 29, 2000 - 12:34 pm
You may tell Mr Reiken that I even bought this one.

betty gregory
October 29, 2000 - 01:55 pm
Looks good to me, also. Count me in.


October 29, 2000 - 02:36 pm
It is a good read, and I'll try to borrow it from the Library again in January.

Diane Church
November 13, 2000 - 10:08 pm
I just picked up a copy at our library today - as long as it was there, thought I'd take a look at it. But, alas, I also just received (after starting out at #54 on the request list), White Teeth. And I just found two Anne Lamott books I hadn't read. What wealth!

November 14, 2000 - 04:25 am
Diane: Make some notes....jot down some questions for the author who will be joining us sometime in January!!

Ella Gibbons
December 12, 2000 - 12:33 pm
Just saw this book at the Library today and wondered why the title looked so familiar and then it broke through my dimwitted brain that it is to be discussed.

Will start reading it soon and be ready with some questions for the author in January.

Looks good!

December 12, 2000 - 06:01 pm
Good, Ella. You know, we have two authors now scheduled for the New Year. If you haven't participated in one of these book discussions with the author - please do join us.


December 28, 2000 - 02:34 pm
Charlie, what's the schedule for this now? Should we read it entirely in advance or what? I bought it the day I saw it in The New Yorker, and have held it back till this started.

Looks like a great group assembling here.


December 28, 2000 - 03:27 pm
Ginny and everyone: Please read on your own schedule. I have read the entire book and will reread along the way. I have though, posted a suggested Discussion Schedule to help guide us through. Please refer to the top of the page [the header].

December 28, 2000 - 04:46 pm
Great, thanks, Charlie!


December 29, 2000 - 07:12 am
I have this title on hold at the library, so I'll come in once I have it (the author will be happy to know that all 5 or 6 titles in the San Francisco Pub. Library system are currently borrowed).

December 29, 2000 - 06:04 pm
Hi I live in New Jersey so will be looking forward to some real truths about the state instead of hearing that it is nothing but cinder block and concrete.


December 29, 2000 - 07:03 pm
Hi, Clare. Welcome to the discussion. Hope you will be joining us on (or after) the 1st.

December 29, 2000 - 07:32 pm
CMac:Welcome aboard! I am dying to ask one question of this NJ Author. Perhaps you could kick start it here for me. Do you know the Rosenbergs, (?sp) of the NJ fame Shop Rite? He has mentioned Shop Rite at least 8 times so far in this novel....At one point in my life, I worked for them, in a nursing capacity.

Larry Hanna
December 30, 2000 - 03:54 am
Charlie, I got this book from the library a couple of days ago and have started it. Am looking forward to the discussion. Been a long while since I tried to participate in a discussion.


December 30, 2000 - 05:11 am
Hi, Larry. Nice to hear from you and especially glad to have you with us here.


December 30, 2000 - 06:44 am
Welcome back Larry. I do not know you but have heard nothing but kudos of the highest since I've been here. Charlie leads the finest of discussions and I am ready to go.

Larry Hanna
December 31, 2000 - 03:11 pm
Alf, thanks for the kind words. I am looking forward to the discussion and just about have the first 70 pages read. Tomorrow is the day.


January 24, 2002 - 02:22 pm
No, Alf I don't know that Rosenberg. The one I know lives up the street from me and he is a school teacher. Sorry. Happy New Year everyone. I have a gift cetificate for Boarders so I'm heqaded for the bookstore as soon as I shovel out of the driveway.

January 1, 2001 - 06:00 am
Happy New Year to all
and a warm welcome to old and new friends, as we take our first journey together - here into the lives of Anthony Rubin and his fractured family. A discussion schedule has been posted at the top of every page. Please don't feel constrained by this - it's for guidance only: To use as a yard stick to see where we are in the discussion - or where we may want to get back too as we meander through the ideas that may occur to us from talking to each other.

In the Prologue and all undated Chapters, the tale is related to us by the first-person narrator, Anthony Rubin. The voice slips from the present to past remembrances - especially to the seminal event in the life of the Rubin family three years earlier, when his mother, Jess, throws rocks through the window of the Berkowitz' home. While Anthony and his father Michael are inside. Michael has been having an affair with Claudia Berkowitz.

The past is filled in with dated Chapters, through a third person narrator. In Part I (Constellations) we're first taken back to the summer of 1979 at the Jersey shore where the Rubin's and Berkowitz' shared a summer rental. The summer is replete with Skee-Ball on the Boardwalk, thirteen-year old Anthony's summer "romance" with a "Teaneck" girl, star-gazing and the sounds of Bruce Springsteen. In the midst of this idyllic summer, his mother is arrested for drunken driving and it dawns on both Anthony and Claudia's son Jay that their parents (Michael and Claudia) are probably having an affair.

In Joeyland, we learn a bit about Claudia, and what makes her tick. In the third Chapter (In and Out of Moonlight) we get a sense of the dark clouds passing over Anthony's life - his sister Dani is about to leave for Spain - and his mother admits that she has always known about her husbands affair. Anthony considers the possibility, for the first time, of his parents separating. In the fourth Chapter (THE GIFT OF ANTICIPATION), it's the following summer, and Michael is still seeing Claudia - even as he tries to understand what went wrong with his marriage. We get a closer look at the "difficult" Jess. Like Anthony attempting to visualize the future without both his parents, Michael

"tries to see himself, his future. He cannot."
The first part ends, as each succeeding Part does, with a sort of post-script chapter in the first-person 'Anthony' voice. It's the present and he's visiting his mother in Florida where she is attempting to make a new life for herself. In Sanibel, Jess has made plans to take Anthony back to the scene of a restaurant where the family had made special dinner reservations that had gone awry. Back to the place where she had spent the night on the beach, alone.

I do very much like the Chapter arrangement and voice changes - the structure. For me, it fleshes out past events while keeping me interested in the characters as they are presently evolving? What are your thoughts on this arrangement?

Our author, Frederick Reiken has written an essay entitled The Power of Place: The Literary Lure of Cummington, Massachusetts. A link is in the heading at the top of each page. It's an interesting essay, and gives us a glimpse, I think, into Reiken's desire and ability to write a place for us to see and feel. I'd say he has done this very well in Lost Legends. The feel of place - especially in Part I - at the Jersey shore is very strong. Or is it that time of life that I identify with? The summer of our youth at thirteen... At any rate, Reiken has written a strong landscape in which to place his characters. Would you agree ?


betty gregory
January 1, 2001 - 07:00 am
My book hasn't arrived. I've been tracking it online through UPS and it's sitting in S. Carolina, where it has been for a week!!! Frustration!!! I'll catch up when it gets here.

January 1, 2001 - 07:08 am
[hmmmmm. Maybe they sent it to Ginny by mistake! Charlie]

January 1, 2001 - 08:04 am
The book is written in the same manner that Anthony describes his mother.
"When she looks up her eyes seem frozen, like she's lost."

Each character is lost in this novel. Chas. describes it as "evolving". I get the sense of "revolving"-- they all rotate, whirl and spin thru the chapters as they struggle to mature. hmm- I just thought about something! Lost! As in lost legends? I swear I never thought of that when I read it although the sentence impressed me. They are all lost. Each one of the characters are adrift, wandering thru their lives. Is this exactly what FR wanted us to sense?

Ella Gibbons
January 1, 2001 - 10:32 am
Good point, Alf! But what does he mean by legends?

The character of Anthony reminds me of Neil Simon's young brother in Brighton Beach Memoirs - Jewish, curious, intelligent. As Simon's work was for the most part autobiographical, I am wondering if Anthony could also be the author as a young boy.

This is suburbia in what period do you think? The very word "suburbia" brings to mind so many connotations of which my generation has been deemed guilty; the character of Claudia is a good example - the bored housewife taking out her frustrations in sex - exploitation of other wives' husbands.

The young married woman of today is better in many ways, however, she has her problems also.

Jill is the most fascinating - more later.

January 1, 2001 - 10:42 am
Ella: Legend as in a fabled, fabricated , unreal story of the past. Lost Legends! A lost narrative or tale. What do you think?

Larry Hanna
January 1, 2001 - 11:20 am
Alf, I hadn't thought of that either but it certainly seems to fit from the Part I chapters.

Charlie, your description has already helped me focus on the structure of the book. While I have been able to follow the story I had not analyzed it in terms of structure and was finding some confusion in trying to figure out where I was in the story. Think your explanation will help keep the story flowing together.

Right now I don't find any of the adults in this story very much to my liking. While it seems that Jess is mentally ill in some ways and that has affected her relationships with her husband and children, there is obviously a lot more to her story as to why she is like she is. At this point I really have no respect for Claudia who seems to be a scheming woman with little concern for anyone but herself. But why is she like this, probably yet to be revealed.

So far the men in this story seem to be pretty weak characters. Michael is fully under the control of Claudia and I really can't remember very much related to Claudia's husband, but one wonders where has he been in all of this.


January 1, 2001 - 01:30 pm
A "struggle to mature" as Alf, says. But surely we see some progress in Anthony at least? As for Michael and Jess - well, they probably come to a deeper understanding of themselves - and Jess attempts to forge an independent life at least - but yes, they probably do no better than acknowledge the difficulties of their struggle. That at least is something perhaps. The "Lost" may be the parents - and the "Legends" of their happiness and their love for each other. Ella makes a good point about Claudia's being sort of an archetype of Lost Suburban wife. But it is interesting to see the choices that brought her to where she was.

And Larry mentions something that occurred to me also. Claudia's husband, Douglas Berkowitz. Seems to have ended up on the cutting groom floor, hasn't he?


Ella Gibbons
January 1, 2001 - 02:54 pm
They all have yearnings for the past, Michael and his music, Claudia and the boy she loved but denied, and Jill and her Jewish roots.

I'm not sure how these are tied in with the word "legend" but perhaps someone else can understand.

Larry - Hello old friend! Nice to have you back. I agree, these are not nice people, not my kind of friends, but very rarely do you read a newspaper or a book where nice people are featured!

January 1, 2001 - 03:47 pm
My first impression from the posts... It must be more like a soap opera???

I'll pick up the book at the library tomorrow, I hope... If we aren't snowed in again.

January 1, 2001 - 04:35 pm
Oh, Ella. Yes. "Yearnings for the past, Michael and his music, Claudia and the boy she loved but denied, and Jill and her Jewish roots." Thanks for that. [I think you mean Jess though, Michael's wife?? Instead of Jill?]

Perhaps we create legends in our own minds sometimes regarding the past. Legends which we can never live up to…legends which are lost…because they were never true in the first place.

Pat - Your first impression is not far off - at least it starts out with some fairly dramatic action - but then settles in and we see how we've come to this point. Hope you get the book.


Ella Gibbons
January 1, 2001 - 04:42 pm
Oh, dear, Charlie - scusa!

It's Jess, not Jill. I know 2 Jills but only one Jess, who is a dog, so you can understand the association with names, or can you? Oh, well.

January 1, 2001 - 09:08 pm
I took this book on a plane trip through ice and snow the past week from Texas to Tennessee and back. It kept me engrossed and often it was hard to put down. I like the structure of the novel even though I occasionally had to go back to the dated chapters to find a date to determine where we were chronologically. I realized the voices change, but it seemed natural and fitting.

Charlie, I agree that it definitely has the feel of the place. I thought the author was very successful at making you feel what it was like growing up in New Jersey. (It made me glad I grew up some years before and in the Midwest!)

Thanks for the links to the reviews and interviews. I read them all tonight and it helped a lot.

I like the word 'legends'. That word describes a phenomenom I see a lot at my age. People come up with their own versions of the same circumstances as they have tried to make sense of something that happened. It is when you discuss it years later, that you discover we all come up with legends. Some of it is true, some of it is fabricated, but to the storyteller it is what happened. It amazes me to hear someone, who I know was at the very same place as I, tell such a dramatically different version of what happened, and why it happened, than I remember.

I find the discussion of why these are lost legends very interesting -- I hope the author answers that question. It's a good title. Marge

January 2, 2001 - 05:48 pm
I'm really getting alot of good information from all of the posts! The book was sitting there on the library shelf; you said you were going to discuss it; and I grew up in North Jersey - we played Livingston at football in the '50's! So here I am a little over half way through "Legends" and I am amazed at the number of characters that Mr. Reiken has introduced and how in such a short amount of space he has described each one so that the reader has a total picture of each personality. For instance, have you met the 18 wheeler truck driver???!!! What a great situation that chapter portrayed!!

betty gregory
January 2, 2001 - 06:17 pm
My book arrived by UPS an hour ago!! I'll be reading tonight and tomorrow and be back to join in!!!

January 2, 2001 - 06:44 pm
Welcome Marge and maggiem. It's good to have you with us. And Betty got her brand new book too!!

And Marge- I think you put your finger on it: Legends are made by all us as we all have "tried to make sense of something that happened." Seems to fit here very well, doesn't it?. Certainly Anthony is trying to understand what has become of his family. Later we see Juliette trying to live down the legends that grow up around her's!

Maggiem mentions Morgan, the female truck driver. She's in the curious band instrument graveyard scene. These kinds of scenes always get me extremely curious as to where they came from. I always sense that they must have a germ a reality to them - something - or something similar that actually happened.

While we're in this section, I have to mention how much I loved the early Springsteen…circa Greetings from Asbury Park. There's a Springsteen moment on one of his live albums, live in the Meadowlands, I think. The song is Jersey Girl (which is actually a Tom Waits song - another of my all-time favorites)and when he sings

`Cause down the shore everything's all right
You and your baby on a Saturday night
Nothing matters in this whole wide world
When you're in love with a Jersey girl
the crowd just goes crazy. They all know what he's talking about! Good stuff. That kind of thing is hard to duplicate in literature, but Mr. Reiken makes a valiant attempt here I think to his credit. There's a lot of stuff that's just "so right."


January 2, 2001 - 06:59 pm
Remember to post any questions you may have to Mr. Reiken about his book. He will be dropping in and answering them as his schedule allows. He may not get to them right away - but he most definitely will receive your questions. Thanks.


Larry Hanna
January 3, 2001 - 03:59 am
I thought that band instrument graveyard chapter was quite strange. I feel I must be missing some symbolism in the particular instruments that the two came upon as they were trying to find help.


January 3, 2001 - 05:07 am
I, too, am going to reread that Larry ut it encompassed the "Lost Legend" theory." These instruments are now obsolete, destroyed, extinct. They are adrift - as are the characters.

Ella Gibbons
January 3, 2001 - 10:23 am
Welcome Maggiem! Is this your first visit to our book discussions? And do you know, New Jersey, is one of the few states I've never visited. For some reason it sticks in my mind that the state has had numerous jokes told about it (and I can't think of a one) - isn't your state where early gambling casinos were built - the second Las Vegas? Donald Trump? Can you refresh my memory.

And, Charlie, I did like the Springstein sonnet.

As I read the graveyard scene I thought it was very weird, certainly unrealistic. Who would bury all those instruments in a field and why was that in the story? Being of a practical nature, I would have thought it better if those instruments had been given to a neighborhood center; certainly not ditched to clutter the environment.

If we were are looking at symbolism, however, perhaps the dead instruments, those that would never play again and be a part of the present, represents the dreams of Michael and Claudia, the dreams that cannot come alive again. We can only speculate; perhaps the author can tell us when he appears.

I admired this sentence as I have had dreams such as these: It was a strong dream in its feeling although abstract in its plot.

January 3, 2001 - 02:04 pm
Ella: What part was that quote from - the context? Can't place it….
One more note on Jersey lore that has always stayed with me: In the movie Atlantic City, the Burt Lancaster character - a character that could have been right out of Mr. Reiken's book - is talking about the ocean on the Boardwalk. He utters the unforgettable line, in Lancaster's own inimitable way: "The Atlantic. They don't make oceans like that anymore." Always did love that line. The Lancaster character is, in a way, a Lost Legend himself. Then there's the Lancaster movie, The Swimmer, which touches on some of the same themes of suburbia. But I digress.

At the end of the chapter Constellations, Anthony has had his fight with Jay about their parent's affair. He has to leave in a hurry and gives all his skee-ball tickets to another kid he bumps into on the Boardwalk. Remember how he runs off after giving away the tickets? With "high steps"? I like this image for some reason. It seems real to me. Just the kind of exaggerated bodily activity that a kid his age might get into in an attempt to control his strong emotions.

"He knew that running this way improved his balance. He also knew that he would never be coming back."
More than just coming back, of course. Anthony knows that his life has probably changed radically, although I'm sure he doesn't know quite how or why. But he definitely has the sense. He won't be passing that way again in just the same manner. The place, the moment will always be different from there on out.

What about the choices Claudia made in Joeyland? She dreams of her high school sweetheart, Joey Malinowski, with regularity. What does that tell you? Are the memories real - or are they the stuff of Claudia's self-made Legends? This Joeyland. "The more the years went by, the wider and more expansive this place became." This Joeyland. The place that she "belonged to." Do you think that she, as she suspects, "wasted her life" by opting for something other than the "six kids" and the "big blue station wagon."? Or is she just deluding herself with the Legends she has built up in her own mind. She's obviously a woman who is pretty self-centered and who cares little for others, isn't she? But is this a character with whom you can get past all that and feel any empathy for? What do you think? What about Claudia?


Ella Gibbons
January 3, 2001 - 02:31 pm
Charlie - that quote is from pg. 31 - Claudia's dreams. Oh, yes, I think Claudia's Joey certainly was real - her, if not first love, her greatest love, the love of her youth. Haven't we all had those dreams?

I'll admit I have - the first boy I truly "fell in love" with - he was special, always will be special and I see him now in my mind and dream of him occasionally. Unlike Claudia, I know it would have been disastrous had we married, we had nothing in common at all. Claudia is not certain in her mind if she made the right choice between love and wealth.

January 3, 2001 - 02:43 pm
Hi, I don't have the book as yet but have been following the discussions. I am not a native NJ gal. I am from across the river but married a NJ soldier. I am anxious to read the book after all of the discussions so wait for me to catch up. I am also ready to defend NJ and it's beaches. When I read some of the chapters of the book I will join you all. Clare

January 3, 2001 - 04:50 pm
Larry et.al Do know the recent (1997) book: "Meadowlands, Wilderness Adventures on the Edge of a City" by Robert Sullivan?! (Big seller in paperback today) He wrote about paddling himself in a boat through the Meadowlands and described alot of the "treasures" buried there. The Meadowland in essence is a swamp and WAS part of the Secaucus pig farms and garbage dumps for northern NJ and NYCity!! And now has the Stadium built on part of it - and named after a former Governor of NJ! (True and comical aside!!) Whoever knew that that stinker of a place - and we did hold our noses driving by on our way to the Lincoln Tunnel- would find a prominent place in literature???

NJ hasn't been my home for 40 years! I'm in the lower Adirondacks at this point!! Breathing really beautiful air!! HOWEVER, New Jersey does have one of the largest wilderness areas of any State! You have to look west - out and over the Secaucus meadows!!!

Back to the book!

January 3, 2001 - 05:46 pm
Thanks, Ella. I wonder if the "she tried to convince herself that, somehow, she had not wasted her life" isn't really telling us that she believes that she did waste it. Made the wrong choice.

Clare- We'll be here all month so join in when you can.

Maggiem- I had read that somewhere recently (about the wilderness area of NJ) but don't recall where. It surprised me.

In the section IN AND OUT OF MOONLIGHT, Jess tells her kids that she has "always understood that [her] marriage…was a mistake", but that she doesn't "have the energy to change things." People really do, for the most part, dislike change. Even in a bad relationship, the energy required to do something about it is just too much to overcome. People will adapt, compromise, lower their desires…settle. Or do you feel that most people will change their lives radically to achieve happiness?


January 4, 2001 - 05:40 am
Oh boy how I have waited for this discussion, being a South Jersey girl, myself, (Hi, Clare!) hahahaaa

Lost Legends, boy now there's a title. Aren't there plenty of "legends" of New Jersey? You have only to read Terhune, his books are full of them,and it's SUCH a tiny little state.

That's one of the things we can ask, thanks to the author's kindness, the author himself. But I liked Maggiem's take on it, how things even in our own lives, blow up and become "legends," and of course we all know people who are "legends in their own minds."

I'm a South Philly girl, originally, but everybody, as Springsteen says, spent their "weekends on the Jersey shore," and like those who commute to NYC in Northern New Jersey, we soon found ourselves in South Jersey, commuting to Philadelphia.

One thing I really liked about this book was its true voice. "Down the shore." To somebody who has not lived in the area, I wonder if those words shriek off the page like they do to me? "Down the shore?"

Down the pike? When I moved here in 1961, nobody knew what a pike was, other than a fish or a stick.

I thought the author does a wrenching job showing how a child tries to make sense of a dysfunctional family, opening as it does with the mother on the lawn throwing stones.

That doesn't happen every day but we can see the child struggling to understand and make sense of this bizarre event which also carries the weight of public censure and exposure.

What on earth is wrong with Claudia? Gosh, talk about sadistic, seems to get a thrill from hurting Jess? What's Jess ever done to her except marry a doctor? Ol Michael is sort of out of control, too , isn't he?

In fact everybody EXECPT the kids is out of control. If Claudia in her Mercedes is worried about wasting her life as it says, then she has picked a very strange way to validate it, to me.

Jess herself is no prize. Are we meant to sympathize with her? I thought in one of the vignettes with mother and son at the beach her own lack of communication and her efforts to put off his wanting to talk were sad, and in some ways, I just did not understand.

You would think she would be eager for anything he had to say?

I know I would be, from my own sons. I wonder IF this is important and says something about her or communication between parents and children or what? I have not gone beyond the 70 pages and simply don't know.

I like all the flashing around, the author's technique, it's sort of disorienting, but it's the way your mind works, stream of consciousness. I had a hard time figuring out whose family Jay was in or who Dani was but I got it eventually and that's the way things are presented to a child? Just in that fashion. It'a a miracle any child ever grows up normally and a shame that...well I guess, as one character said early on, at least she didn't take a gun and kill people.

You know, of course, that Betty Broderick drove a car through her husband and his love's front door and trashed his house as well, so other children in real life have gone thru such strange things.

Sorry this is so long. As far as cemeteries go, here in my area we have strange things happen too, cakes and diet cokes appear on grave stones and packs of cigarettes, strange things happen, that image of the buried instruments not making any more music is really good, Ella.

The word "calm" appears an awful lot in this section, as if in contrast to the general lack of same in the life of this child, did you notice it? As if it were a virtue, is it? Is "calmness" a virtue?

But here's the thing!!!!!!!!!!

The cheerleader thing!!!!!!!

OK page 41:

"...when Mom became a cheerleader, her parents threatened to rip their clothes, cover their mirrors, and act like she was dead."

Ok. I really want to know IF in fact, the author has heard of this actually happening?

Every time somebody calls me (nicely) a cheerleader, I wince. I think this is somehow buried in my experiences and want to know if this has actually happened, or the author has heard of this or he made it up?

More more, there's so much more in this story.


Larry Hanna
January 4, 2001 - 05:41 am
As is usually the case, the children in this story are the ones who really suffer based on the actions of the adults. Certainly Jess is suffering and it seems that this may be the result of something she really can't control. However, it doesn't appear, so far, that she has sought out much help.

As I believe we as adult, and assuming for underlying mental illness, do have control over our actions. Therefore the actions of Claudia and Michael certainly are within their control. They made the choices that caused the fabic of their lives to unravel and to bring such unhappiness to their children.

Ginny, you posted while I was writing. You make some very interesting points and being a Jersey girl bring a unique view to the story, as does a couple of the other participants.


January 4, 2001 - 05:57 am
And you have to wonder, Larry, why they did it? They would not appear to be suffering from any sort of stress, Michael is a doctor, Claudia (interesting choice of name, no?) drives around in a Mercedes, what IS going on here in the suburbs?

And why is it going on? Boredom? Some sort of nasty game on Claudia's part?

Do we feel sorry for Jess, who, as Larry says, is just dealing with things beyond her control?


Ella Gibbons
January 4, 2001 - 08:05 am
What good ideas to chew on today! I'll have to go back to the book and review a couple of things, but I think, Ginny, that it is a tradition in Jewish life to do the things that Jess's parents did to show not only their displeasure, but actually to disown a child. However, I'm not sure about my facts - perhaps someone else can inform us about Jewish traditions?

And, Charlie, yes, I think Claudia feels she has lived a wasted life, but she has two children and a husband (whom we have not read anything about as has been mentioned) who leaves her alone far too much and she has the morals of a cat. What's wasted about that? And that's such a cliche - a wasted life. Who's the judge?

January 4, 2001 - 04:37 pm
Ginny talks about what a " wrenching job" the author does, "showing how a child tries to make sense of a dysfunctional family, opening as it does with the mother on the lawn throwing stones. " Back to the very beginning of the book, if I may. I think the image of Anthony staring through a hole in the broken window is a powerful one for the reader. A powerful one for Anthony, too. He mentions it at least three times in the space of a few pages.

So, tell us your egg cream stories, Ginny and Cmac and maggiem. My roommate in college (lived in Miami Beach)always had some jar of egg cream syrup sent to him from relatives in New York…

Larry mentions Jess' suffering, and I have to tell about someone I used to know in High School. The oddest thing. Julliette reminded me so much of Trudy in some ways. She always seemed so old for her years in a way. And she had a mythic quality about her. She and her boyfriend who were bonded to each other in a very frenzied way. And here's the part that's odd. She also reminded me of Jess because - and this is a little gross - she (and her boyfriend) would carve their names in their skin with knives to show their "love" for each other - and to show everyone else that they were inseparable. This self-mutilation, of course, is something like what Jess did to herself. This really does happen. I don't know the technical name or medical term for it, but I think there is one. Larry also reminds us, and I think he is right, as far as I can recall, that she doesn't do much n the way of getting help for herself. You'd think that her husband being a doctor and all that she would have - or that he would have insisted. But I for one, do feel a compassion for Jess. A compassion that grows as the story develops.


January 4, 2001 - 05:47 pm
WHAT in the world happened to the carefree, confident Jess of high school years? We are told she was intuitive and exuded confidence early on. In adulthood we meet the unpredictable, depressed woman who fears clowns and marionettes. Did Jess feel like a victim whose strings were being manipulated by her Jewish parents? What could have been the cause of this ambiguity?

The term is called shiva. I'm uncertain as to the spelling . I knew a Jewish guy who after marrying a catholic gal , found that his parents actually "sat" Shiva for him. They draped the door in black and refused to hear or speak his name. Could this seperation with parental influence have made such a drastic change in Jess? She is described as a paradox but she must have been unapproachable early on. I agree with Chas. She is a tragic , wretched woman and the urge to hold her so that she doesn't shatter is very strong.

January 4, 2001 - 06:27 pm
That's a good question, ALF. And I don't know that we have many clues for the answer to that one. You speculate about her parents strong hand, and that could be a large part of it. There are some references also, to her older sister Leah, who seems to have had it easier. Because things came easier to her. Perhaps there were some feelings of inadequacy by comparison there.


January 5, 2001 - 03:00 am
I don't suppose that the author himself could explain the question of why two children who are reared by the same family can be so different. Look at the realist, Dani in our story, the epitome of cynicism, in comparison to her brother.

January 5, 2001 - 07:54 am
They didn't actually sit shiva did they? They threatened to?

Egg cream? Vanilla egg cream, oh yes, South Philly vanilla egg cream, cream soda, vanilla ice cream, yes, roller skating rink with the music, an egg cream, what else do you need in life? hahahaaa

NO chocolate!!!!!!!! NO no.

Chopped chicken livers, hoagies, scrapple.

New Jersey a place unto itself, different from any other area up there, the brunt of "jokes," never very funny from those in PA and NY, nobody I knew who ever moved TO NJ was happy there, I have a new Nephew in Law who moved to North Jersey and who hated it.

And he's in his 20's, so nothing ever changes, apparently.

When we moved to NJ, I thought it was another foreign world. The bus stop signs were round (does this date me?) I thought, GOSH what kind of place has round bus stop signs (children notice things differently from adults, that's why in many ways taking a child to Europe is sort of an exercise in futility: they remember the lizard on the wall instead of the Colosseum, or maybe they have it right and we don't).

Well, if Jess was that bad off then her separation from her husband and her setting herself up at the beach (which would be where a lot of separated women dream of living, I wonder if there is some wistfulness peeking thru here....) so this would be a positive step for her. Do we see it as such? Again we see it through the eyes of her son, it's a confusion and I think it's deliberate?

(I used to know people who would stick pins in their legs to show how tough they were in college, jocks, isn't college an eye opener tho? And had one roommate with scars all over her arms, suicide "attempts.")

I did stop at that fear of clowns and marionettes, Andrea, I wonder what that means?

I have always hated clowns myself, to the extent, that having been given a signed Red Skelton clown watercolor, and having the utmost respect for Red Skelton himself, I could not bear to look at it and gave it away.

The combination, however, of clown and marionette, to me, does not seem right. The two are two very different things and are not normally lumped together, I found that interesting.

I keep thinking about the cast of characters here and who is fleshed out and who is not and why not? Here's Claudia, almost a Sex and the City Kim Catrall clone, almost a caricature of a person. You get the feeling somebody in real life here is being skewered. I think I would like to know if this character is based on a real person.

It's a shock to find she has a husband, another shock to find she drives a Mercedes (must be money there somewhere?). Her husband is a shadow and so is Michael, they are both spineless shadows.

So here we are presented with a cast of characters, the adults of whom are either shadowy presences or self destructive. So the focus is on the kids and the fractured fairy tales that they are now going to endure, it's going to be interesting to see where this book takes us.


January 5, 2001 - 08:09 am
I assumed that the puppet , an object that is manipulated by another and the marionette, were one and the same.

I loved the 1st chapter as Anthony saw Jess return from the jetty and to him, she seemed like a constellation. She was unreadable, dream-like almost, bewitching him.

I relived the horror of the Jersey shore syringes. Anthony gathered them without fear as "he always trusted the magic of the ocean to make things safe." I was charged with the Infection Control practices for our hospital and one summer a number of our syringes were identified , at the Jersey shore. That was most unpleasant being interrogated by the NY Dept of Health Commissioner, Mr. Axlerod.

Wrestling, scouring the beaches, skee ball; my kids still talk about our vacations in Seaside Heights.

January 5, 2001 - 09:28 am
But what has a puppet or a marionette got to do with a clown?


January 5, 2001 - 09:35 am
The puppet and the marionette pertain to the strings that are being pulled by the parents influence. Clowns are the dolts, jesters, the phonies of this world..... Easy to understand why people are turned off by them, isn't it?

Ella Gibbons
January 5, 2001 - 03:16 pm
Thanks, ALF, for that word "shiva." I couldn't remember it before, but I think her parents just threatened to, didn't they? But we aren't really sure and, in my opinion, poor Jess is conflicted by both her marriage and her lost religion. As Charlie said earlier, and I believe somewhere Jess also said, it's not easy to change, she loved her children, she had no way of supporting them and probably couldn't make up her mind to leave them all and go away - as she eventually did.

On that trip to Sanibel, Anthony says she pleaded with her eyes please, just let me be." And later he felt she was "ready to explode" and that partially explains her disappearance that night.

She tells Anthony on that visit to Sanibel that she is studying the Kaballah and here is a site that explains it:


On a similar site learning or studying Kaballah can be a way of improving mental health. I've read of hurting oneself for various reasons, just never knew anyone who did it - Jess went to extremes, certainly, but she had cut herself before her marriage so she's got problems beyond the usual wife/mother/suburbia boredom.

Ginny, you just gave away a Red Skelton signed painting? They are worth quite a bit I understand. My young neighbors have one and love it and think it will only get more valuable through the years - however, like you, I don't like it or clowns. Never have, never thought them funny. Puppets I like! We used to make them when a child and later with my children we made them and put on puppet shows for other children in the neighborhood, charged a "sucker" for admittance. More fun! I would write a script for them and they would spend more time giggling than putting on the show.

January 5, 2001 - 05:14 pm
Ginny writes that " we are presented with a cast of characters, the adults of whom are either shadowy presences or self destructive. So the focus is on the kids and the fractured fairy tales that they are now going to endure…" That's about right, I think. One of the main threads of this book is about the coming of age, the coping with the hand dealt them - the parents dealt them, really - by Anthony and Juliette [Romeo & Juliette]. Oh, Jess does some searching of her own and Michael struggles to get a grip on the way his life has turned around - but it IS the kids really that we care more about (I should say I care more about) ad are focused on to a greater extent. Thanks for the Kaballah link, Ella. The study of Kaballah seems to be becoming rather chic in some circles these days.


January 5, 2001 - 08:12 pm
Claudia "knew with Joey she'd have six kids and always drive a big blue station wagon......". In other words it made a lot more sense to marry Douglas. She waited on him and "Later when Douglas was paying for his dinner, Claudia watched him open up his wallet. She never saw what he had inside but made her choice right at that instant. She cleared his table and thought: Fine. Now I am going to be rich." And, I guess that's how she ended up with the MERCEDES!!!

And get this: I remember Madonna discussing the Kaballah at great length one night on Larry King Live!!!

Don't remember "egg creams" - probably because our mother never let us have "sweets" except for an occasional chocolate coke at the local drug store counter!! Yipee!!

January 7, 2001 - 12:25 pm
Yes, maggiem, I have read about Madonna, and her new found interest in the Kaballah. There other others, too, I think. The Hollywood religion du jour?

In the Chapter IN AND OUT OF MOONLIGHT, Dani and Anthony take a ride on their bikes through their neighborhood. This was a very poetic scene to me and a view of things to come. They rode "in and out of moonshadows" as if their future which is fast upon them, would be alternating moments of shadow and light. This revisiting also has finality to it. Dani is off to Spain for the summer, their parents marriage is obviously ending and the future is all in the shadows - even more uncertain than is usually imagined by a boy of his age. Even more revisiting to come, when he sees his mother in Florida…

January 7, 2001 - 08:08 pm
In PART II, the themes of loss are explored in even greater detail: Anthony's loss of his mother, Juliette's loss of hers, Michael's ruminations on the loss of his brother Daniel...the loss of his wife. Lost Legends, Lost Mothers, Lost Meadows, and the Lost World of Atlantis.

Anthony has "lost his mother" and now Juliette loses hers. In Lost Mothers, Isabella Dimiglio commits suicide. From thinking about his mother, Anthony begins thinking a lot about Juliette's mother. It's not long before, in Anthony sells Juliette a Raffle, he begins thinking a lot about Juliette herself. Adding to the sense of loss that Anthony finds himself seeing everywhere, in Lost Meadows, he and his sister Dani and friends, discover a "band grave yard." In the oddly named Goodnight Kiss, the author explores the curious relationship between Juliette and her sadistic boyfriend, Tommy Lange. In a voice that is either Michael's consciousness, or the author talking directly to him, we have a monologue from The Invisible World. Michael continues in his effort to come to grips with the loss of his wife. And the loss of his brother Daniel through the continuation of Daniel's diary. The Invisible World is also the title of a memoir about Daniel written by their father. The concept of the Fated Other (b'shert) is introduced. Juliette has her innocent/intimate sojourn at the Zoo with Anthony's old friend, Jay Berkowitz in Romeo and Juliette. And finally, in Atlantis, we are back in the present with Michael and his mother, who takes him on a dive and through a "doorway into another world."


Ella Gibbons
January 8, 2001 - 01:40 pm
Thanks, Charlie, for the summary. In Part II, as you have stated, we read about lost mothers, lost meadows, very sad. Particularly poignant are Anthony's thoughts on page 75:

He tried imagining what it felt like-finding your mother dead and bloody......horrific as it was, it might be better than having a mom who lived in Florida......A mom whose absence seemed to be everywhere....She would pop out and startle him with her absence.

Anyone who has lost someone in their life, someone they saw constantly or lived with, can relate to that last sentence.

Perhaps the legends part of the title of the book is explained by Anthony thinking of his mother as a character in a legend - he saw everything around him as a legend. This is akin to the way in which many young people deal with sadness in their life, do you agree? A make-believe world is easier to deal with than the reality.

January 8, 2001 - 04:28 pm
Yeah. The absence being the thing that you can feel and see and notice constantly. He turns the feeling inside out, rightly so, I think. Now did anyone ever have a neighbor or know someone like the Dimiglios? Oh, not necessarily someone with the same particular quirks and problems but, you know, someone who "never gave out candy on Halloween? Loved that. I think that we all had people who never gave out the candy and didn't we wonder about them, though!!! Just that one trait says a lot - or more to the point - leaves a lot of blanks crying for us to fill them in. A clever sentence, I think.

Larry Hanna
January 8, 2001 - 06:47 pm
As I was reading your fine summary of Part II the thought occurred to me that Anthony and Dani actually lost their Mother much before her phyiscal departure. While children adjust to whatever circumstances they find themselves in, it is clear that Claudia has always been on the brink of another outburst or withdrawal from her family. When she finally left Michael she just made the situation formal by her physical departure while she had really left the marriage and probably at least mentally mistreated her children for a long time.

Juliette is another tough case and her lifestyle with her boyfriend appears to be an act of rebellion against both her father and mother. It seems that she has little self respect when she allows her boyfriend to speak to her and treat her as he does.

The concept of b'shert seems to almost be a fantasy. While it is a wonderful thing to think about, I have to believe that we make our own b'shert by the way we choose to live our lives and make our relationships the best they can be. I will be interested to see what ideas our other participants have about this concept.


betty gregory
January 9, 2001 - 01:29 am
Just now catching up. Such wonderful posts, all.

There is so much in this title, Lost Legends. For me, it conjures up Jewish religious references, even some old testament references. Then, legends of unique New Jersey and of being Jewish there. Most of all, though, for me the title is about early dreams that grew up to be legends. Those bigger than life first-loves, of people, of pictures of ourselves in the future.

The "lost" references are woven skillfully throughout. I especially loved the car-trouble night when they were lost and actually risked getting mired down in the fields of half-buried dreams, er, musical instruments.

The author does a wonderful job showing what kind of pain people can fall into, get stuck in---the acting out from Claudia, the going along for the ride Michael, the more serious pain from Jess who cuts to release an explosive feeling (although I'm more familiar with those who cut to overcome numbness). Each is still clinging to legends (stories?, scripts?) of marriage, of life, which makes it difficult to live in the present.

So poignant for me is the closeness of Anthony and Dani who reach out to each other when their family is dissolving. My younger brother Danny and I did that. The author captures this just right.

January 9, 2001 - 03:44 am
LARRY SAYS:  "Juliette seems that she has little self respect when she allows her
boyfriend to speak to her and treat her as he does. "  Agreeing with this, I thought-- why????

Isabella only wanted what was best for her daughter.  They barely spoke without arguing and Juliette was weighted down by this dreadful sense of guilt that survivors experience.  What an ordeal for a teen to carry as she recounted the nasty comments she made to her mother.  She warned Isabella not to screw up the suicide attempt and turn "into a "vegetble."  I had a dear friend who blew her brains out while her 14 yr. old was in the house and I shall never forgive that injustice and what it did to the surviving teen.  With suicide comes so many conflicting emotions for an adult to sort thru.  How very difficult it must be for an adolescent.

January 9, 2001 - 03:06 pm
You're right, of course, Larry. Jess' moving away to Florida only confirmed her de facto relationship with the family. And I tend to agree with you about the concept of b'shert. There' a lot more work than fate involved in "true" love. I've always believed that we are capable of loving and spending our lives with any number of people. That there just isn't any one single person and if you don't find THAT one - then, well….it will just be a difficult time making it work. And yet I don't think of myself as "un-romantic"!! Kidding myself?

I am particularly glad to see betty here. I have a sneaking suspicion that over in the Mating discussion, they may be talking about the concept of love in its many manifestations even as we speak here. As a participant there, maybe she can confirm this. But not only that. I need a reality check from betty. She's good for me that way!!

Betty- I had a "flinch" moment in this section about Juliette. It reminded me of another book (President's Astrologer) that had a bit of a cringe factor to it. We know Juliette is self destructive, sure. We know that there are reasons that we can attribute to that in the novel here, and Alf points some of them out. But it's this sentence that bothers me. Arguing viciously with her 'boyfriend' Tommy Lange, the narrator writes:

"She understood that she despised him. She wondered why it was so arousing."
What do you make of that, betty? What do you all make of that? And I loved most of the Chapter headings in this book. I think they are very effective. But this one, for this chapter, I couldn't figure out. Goodnight Kiss?? Meaning?


Ella Gibbons
January 9, 2001 - 04:30 pm
Larry and Charlie, I agree with both of you, that there is no one "fated other" for anyone and it is up to us, both partners, to make a happy relationship, but don't you think Michael is searching for just such a one - a second fated other - one that will have all the qualities he loved in Jess and none of the ones she lacked, in other words, the perfect woman - as if there is such a one?

Although Michael's father wrote the book titled The Invisible World envisioning life with his dead son, I think the title also refers to Michael imagining an invisible world - a perfect one - with someone who will be delighted to share his good life, his children, his money and his own perfect qualities (does he ever think of his own imperfections?); however he does ask the question " when is love just love and not a cloud." I don't know.

Charlie asked if we knew anyone like the Dimiglios; a family that gives no Halloween candy nor do they ever use their barbecue grill. Are they symptomatic of suburbia? No, fortunately, I never have, the father is portrayed as an unsavory character ; while the mother is pathetic and one has to pity her. Juliette can find salvation if she leaves this small town where everybody knows her story and will forever remind her of the past which she considers shameful. I'm afraid she does not have the strength of character to do that, but will end up as her mother feared she would, married to Tommie who will be an abuser.

Jess seems much happier in the Atlantis chapter; Anthony notices - "in her smile I can see a kind of grace." Perhaps Jess was never meant to marry and have responsibilities for being a wife and mother and in solitude she has found a measure of happiness. Someone once said the few moments of happiness we have give life its meaning. And I believe that. If happiness is the ultimate emotion in this world, then we all have our few moments; however, contentment, peace within, and serenity we can find if we have the strength of mind and character to adjust to the physical and mental jolts we all are given.

Oh, gosh, does that sound Pollyannish!

January 9, 2001 - 05:17 pm
It's almost like this "cloud", this "magical anticipated romance" keeps Michael from really seeing his mate(s). He looks at her (them) through the prism of his expectations, through this filter of a cloud, through the gauze of the legends he has built up in his mind


betty gregory
January 9, 2001 - 07:04 pm
Ella, I like your thought on "contentment, peace within, serenity," that they can be ours if we learn to adjust to physical and mental "jolts." I believe that, too.


Charlie your question on the chapter title, Goodnight Kiss, is from the line spoken by Tommy, that his last punch to Roland was going to be a "goodnight kiss." This line extends the picture of a mix of so-called romance (Juliette, Tommy) with abuse. A kiss is a punch.

I noticed the narrator's line, too, about Juliette. "She understood that she despised him. She wondered why it was so arousing." I'm willing to give the author the benefit of the doubt here if he's going for that well known but little understood bond between abuser and abused. Juliette is still a child in many respects and even though we don't know exactly what happened in her home between the parents, we know it wasn't good. A child of such a home may do what lots of abused children do---they try to stay safe. That would include seeking approval, especially from abusers. Karen Horney wrote about this in the 40s and only recently have other researchers extended her premise---that trying to stay alive is the explanation for a child's or woman's clinging to the abuser. The endless attempt to please, therefore, to stay alive.

I don't know if that is a direct or indirect thought of the author behind the narrator's words, but it is what came to my mind when I read them. If he means "aroused" in a strictly sexual sense---that despising someone is arousing---well, you've got me, there. Author Reiken??? Are you listening? Could use your help here.


Was it Larry (I think so) that said we make our own b'shert. I agree, too. The related but contemporary idea of romantic love hasn't been with us that long. Less than a hundred years, in fact. Before that, marriage was more of a practical, economic partnering. How old is the Jewish b'shert?

How true to life Jess and Michael's behavior after Jess' move to Florida. Jess is finding some peace on her own and Michael is dating with an idea of what he'd like to find. That's exactly what studies report women and men do---that men remarry much quicker than women, that women take time to sort things out, grow, heal.

On how-happy-are-you scales, studies report married women are the least happy, then single men, then single women, then married men (happiest). Hmmm.

January 9, 2001 - 09:10 pm
I read the Lost Legends while on a trip before New Years. I have just read The Odd Sea which the author says he wrote simultaneously with Lost Legends. That is very interesting to read both. Both books are about dealing with loss. Both are built around a teen-age boy's viewpoint. There are a lot of parallels but he managed to keep the plots and details so completely separate. I am impressed with this novelist.

The chapter "Goodnight Kiss" was the one I really hated to read. It was the one that made me feel like I led a very sheltered life back when I was in high school or else it wasn't like that then. I hoped it was not like that when my daughters were in high school in the late 60s and early 70s but I was worried. And I don't even want to think about what school and life in general is like for my three grandsons now.

It is interesting to see how Reiken portrays a sort of "boy next door"/star hockey player living in the midst of so much family dysfunction and calamity. As I said last week, I had trouble putting it down. I stayed up way too late last night with The Odd Sea. Marge

betty gregory
January 10, 2001 - 04:20 am
Well, I hadn't read far enough. Michael isn't "dating." He's avoiding....but consumed with what he should or shouldn't be looking for. He does see himself as a husband of someone, though.

Ella Gibbons
January 10, 2001 - 08:18 am
Betty said:

A child of such a home may do what lots of abused children do---they try to stay safe. That would include seeking approval, especially from abusers. Karen Horney wrote about this in the 40s and only recently have other researchers extended her premise---that trying to stay alive is the explanation for a child's or woman's clinging to the abuser.

Yes, I've read those studies somewhere, Betty, but it is still hard to understand. In this book Juliette says that she preferred her father even though he was an abuser and she is dating a boy who is such a bully and abuser. Isn't this difficult to understand? As is the fact that a child who has grown up abused will often abuse her own children - that is even more imcomprehensible to believe as once abused and knowing how that felt and how it affected her life, she (or the father) would not have learned from the experience.

We know it is a fact, we've all seen or heard of women's shelters where wives and their children can escape from abusive husbands. Is abusive behavior on the part of husbands/fathers always the result of alcoholism?

January 10, 2001 - 10:57 am
Thanks everyone for such thoughtful conversation and analysis of The Lost Legends of NJ. And thanks to Charlie for setting up such a nice venue for discussion. In reading over the posted comments, I notice that the the largest topic of discussion so far has been the idea of "legends" and its meaning, as signaled by the title of the book. I was impressed that you all seemed to pick up on what I've always thought of as a kind double-entendre. On one hand, the title can be read as The Lost LEGENDS of New Jersey (i.e. legends that are lost); but the other, less obvious way to read it is as The LOST legends of New Jersey (i.e. legends that are all about "lostness" or lost things). Both of these readings apply.

With regard to the first, I've always conceived of the book as a series of New Jersey variety "legends," with each chapter having a sort of individuality and a "legendary" aspect, if only to the particular character involved. In certain chapters, such as "In and Out of Moonlight" and "Romeo and Juliette," the so-called legend arises out of what I think of as a unique, singular occurrence, unlike any other in that particular character's life. So, a late night chance encounter at the zoo or moonlit bike ride becomes legendary: the kind of thing that these characters, years later, will undoubtedly come back to in their memories as reference points for the confusing and complex experiences they were going through at the time. Similarly, the idea of the legendary "place" of Joeyland, for Claudia -- or even the small but potentially significant incident for Michael in which he, perhaps for the first time, resists his own weakness in the chapter "The Invisible World" -- fits into this idea of one's own personal array of "legends." It may worth noting that the arrangement of the book as a series of "legends" is what gave rise to the overall form -- i.e. the symphonic range of voices and persepectives, all playing off one another to form an overarching continuum, while at the same time presenting a series of self-contained dramatic situations and experiences.

With regard to the second reading of the title, you've all noted that many of the chapter headings explicitly point to this idea of "lostness" (e.g. Joeyland, Lost Meadows, Lost Mothers, The Invisible World, Atlantis, etc.). Someone also noted that the focal character, Anthony, has a tendency to turn everything into a legend. This is very much a book about the problem of lost people, things, and places, in which the losses, while dramatic at times, are ultimately part of the fabric of these characters' mostly unextraordinary lives. It's my sense that one universal response to the fundamentally human problems of loss and absence is to take that which is absent and reassemble it in some artistic/symbolic way -- as a poem, a painting, a story, even a small stone placed on a headstone (a Jewish tradition) when visiting a graveyard. It seems to me that Anthony's m.o. is to reflexively create "legends" as a way of protecting/shielding himself against the losses and absences he is facing with regard to his unraveling family. There is a certain level of adolescent "denial" involved, but it's my sense that many teenagers do, almost amazingly, manage to keep their lives "normal" in the face of very chaotic life circumstances (though they will likely require a healing period if they manage to wake up at some point in later life to the pain and confusion that they blocked out during the period of turmoil).

One other principle I was operating under was the idea that whether one happens to live in Arthurian Camelot or Livingston, NJ, there is an archetypal quality to the experiences one passes through in life, and in the case of childhood there is often a "Camelot" period one ultimately looks back on, even in the most disastrous of families. So, I've tried to give the "legends" in this book a bit of interplay with archetypal legends such as that of the Arthur-Lancelot-Guinevere triangle. There was some discussion of the Meadowlands band graveyard chapter and the female truck driver, Morgan, who rescues them. While in keeping with the often gritty physical reality of a place like New Jersey, this chapter was also intended straddle the line between mundane and magical. You might consider the mist-covered swamp of the Meadowlands a kind of Avalon, where "lost things" such as the discarded band instruments (not to mention the once exalted columns and other structures of the former Penn Station) wind up. There is no outright magic in this book, but there are occasionally moments in which, at least in the consciousness of individual characters, it feels as if something momentous and otherworldly is occurring, and such experiences are inevitably those which will cohere as "legends" for that character, in whatever way they happen to recall it. As Marge noted, there is of course a great deal of subjectivity, perhaps even wish-fueled "revision," in the making of legends.

Frederick Reiken

January 10, 2001 - 01:32 pm
Welcome, Frederick Reiken!

What a surprise to come in from bringing in the groceries and to have the phone ring: "HE'S THERE! HE'S IN THERE!" Not to embarrass you, but what an excitement you've added today and we're delighted you came, and your post here is so rich with added information that it's going to take a while to absorb it. I loved this:

"the symphonic range of voices and persepectives, all playing off one another to form an overarching continuum, while at the same time presenting a series of self-contained dramatic situations and experiences,"


I especially liked your mention of the "archetypal quality to the experiences one passes through in life." For some reason, although I have never been in a zoo at night, that scene in the zoo, and the one where the kids got stuck in the Meadowlands, really seemed to ring some long distant bell with me.

In fact I find myself, while reading this book, stopping and pausing and putting it down, to reflect for a minute, as other memories ("legends") of my own life flood in. By the time you reach the ages we are here, we ourselves have parts of our lives recited, for instance, by our own children as "legends," and it's kind of nice, but at the same time a little unsettling, this (as you and Marge say) subjective selection of what "legend" will surround you, presumably when gone.

Here we are reading about a young man who is at the least, 40 years younger than we are, and possibly a great deal more, yet there are common experiences or emotions we all can relate to.

I still puzzle over some of the facts in the book: did they happen? Are there instruments buried in the Meadowlands, and if so, why? You can reclaim almost any band instrument? Is it the custom for a headstone to be placed on the grave on the first anniversary in New Jersey? What do those small stones signify? The whole thing is a kaleidescope of images swirling around the reader.

Have you heard from younger readers and what is their reaction to this book?

Thank you for honoring us with your ideas and presence.


January 10, 2001 - 03:07 pm
Welcome, Mr. Reiken and thanks for joining us. Particularly helpful to me was your talking about the "series of legends" that a number of Chapters of the book represent. And your mention of Arthurian legends clicked something in my head, also. Sometime ago we read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight here and I suddenly realized that Morgan was a half-sister of Arthur in the Legend…and that out truck driver here is named Morgan (and - and this cracked me up on second reading after remembering the Arthurian Morgan - "she had a half-brother who had messed himself up on drugs. Now she drove trucks for her father. She said his name was Bob Lafleur"!!! So I'm picturing King Arthur "messed up on drugs" and wondering what the name of La Fay's husband was!!). I don't quite recall the significance of Morgan Le Fay, magician, healer, in the Arthurian legends, but Morgan the truck driver did appear rather almost miraculously, didn't she? Almost like a shape-shifter she appeared in her big rig. Brakes squealing and groaning to a stop.The kids are lost. I mean really lost and appear to be drifting further and further into the fog and mist. Then the headlights, and they were rescued by the "fog-muted glow of headlights above the marsh grass." Of course, she and the buried band instruments will be something that Anthony and Dani talk about and remember their whole lives. Exactly.


Ella Gibbons
January 10, 2001 - 05:15 pm

Your students are undoubtedly learning much about writing from you just as we have learned a few things about your book. This phrase helped me understand much about the title:
the so-called legend arises out of what I think of as a unique, singular occurrence, unlike any other in that particular character's life. So, a late night chance encounter at the zoo or moonlit bike ride becomes legendary: the kind of thing that these characters, years later, will undoubtedly come back to in their memories as reference points for the confusing and complex experiences they were going through at the time.

Of course, now that it is has been explained to us we see clearly and not through a glass darkly. How fortunate we are to have had you here and like, Ginny, I must read your remarks over again to realize their full value.

Do come back in when you have the time as we continue through until the end of the book.

We are all grateful for Charlie's invitation and your acceptance.

January 10, 2001 - 05:59 pm
Such a good discussion and to top it off we get to hear from the author. I wish to say special thanks to Frederick Reiken, for joining our group and additional thanks to Charlie for making it possible...

It's books like this one that give me an insight about life in other parts of this US... Living in the middle of a cornfield doesn't provide much excitement or contact with the rest of the world.... unless one can read and go traveling.

Larry Hanna
January 10, 2001 - 07:28 pm
Mr. Reiken, I also appreciated your explanation of the various chapter titles. It is insights like these that make a book standout and which might remain a legend in our minds for a long time to come.

I often find in our discussions that a little light bulb goes on in my mind when I read the comments of what other participants have gathered from the book. It enriches my enjoyment of the book and the discussion and your comments have certainly done that today. Thank you.


betty gregory
January 10, 2001 - 07:47 pm
Ahhhhhh, those legends. How helpful your comments, F. Reiken, and welcome, welcome to the discussion. (Let this be a lesson to us and a Books and Lit example, uh, legend, of our own of how we bring our..selves and perspectives into an author's story, matching or not the author's intent.) The timing of your comments also serves us well.

I, too, particularly like the parts/whole symphonic reference. A good reference to life as well as this book. Your mention of how ordinary these characters' lives...now, that caught me off guard at first, but, of course, that's why we are able to recognize them.

Could you say more about Michael's "weakness." I think I know what you mean, but maybe not.


The scene at the zoo is so touching. I loved that Jay had extra physical strength when he was leaving---that he had no trouble making it from the roof up to the tree. Those are my favorite kind of moments in a book, when the author trusts the reader.

January 10, 2001 - 09:18 pm
Mr. Reiken, Thank You for taking time out of your busy life to honor us with your presence.

January 11, 2001 - 04:12 am
Betty uses the phrase “trust the reader.” That same phrase came up in another discussion here, not days ago. I’m wondering, from an author’s perspective what that means? Is it a valid concern? A conscious concern? A concern that develops as the skills of a writer develop? Or is it rather something that is more a reader’s concern? Some connection that a reader feels to the writer because of style, subject – something that is core to a writer’s approach and thus not separable from his conscious decision making?


Ella Gibbons
January 11, 2001 - 08:16 am
A few nights ago at dinner with friends I asked if anyone had ever been to New Jersey and knew anything about Meadowlands. Our friend, Bob, said yes, Meadowlands used to be a swamp, and then the city used it for a garbage dump for years and lastly New York built a stadium on the garbage dump. When I asked why New York, being a big state, needed to build a stadium in New Jersey, he asked me why Cincinnati, Ohio needed to build their airport in the state of Kentucky and then we all laughed.

Just a slight digression this morning from the seriousness of the novel.

January 11, 2001 - 09:16 am
Responses #2

Thanks everyone for all the notes of welcome and, again, thanks for giving my novel such thoughtful consideration. Charlie, I'm impressed with all that you pieced together about Morgan the truck driver. Not many people have picked those references up.

I've jotted down these responses in hopes of addressing all the lingering q's here:

1) Re: "Goodnight Kiss." In my mind this is one of the two darkest chapters in the book (the other is "Dinosaurs" in part IV) and to be honest I tried hard to cut it. But despite cutting some 200-plus pages by the time I was done, the integrity of the book somehow demanded that I keep this short chapter in. The dynamic in the chapter points to Juliette as clearly being someone with deeply ingrained abuse issues, and her continued association with Tommy Lange seems one manifestation of the core problem. I too cringe every time I read the chapter and recall feeling very disturbed after writing it. One of the interesting things about Juliette, however, is her ability to be simultaneously very good-hearted and even compassionate -- in the right context -- as well as possessing a certain paradoxical degree of strength (paradoxical because it often arises within very self- hating and unhealthy contexts, which she willingly seems to enter).

The analyses Betty offered of the manner in which the bond with abuser gets projected seems accurate, and to answer the q about what I meant by Juliette's wondering why despising Tommy was so arousing --to me this scene presents the perverse phenomenon of Juliette's being at once repulsed by Tommy's sadistic violent behavior while simultaneously being attracted to the power he exudes in his outright sociopathic psychology. My sense is that despite her rational judgment, she finds a safety in being associated with an abuser, and more confusingly, in being abused to a certain extent herself. More confusing yet, this feeling of safety can and in Juliette's case does become sexualized into feelings of "arousal."

2) Re: Michael weakness. Michael seems to me a flawed character, though flawed in quintessentially human ways. My intention with all the "flawed" characters -- even Claudia -- was to present them with compassion, leaving the reader to be the ultimate judge of their actions, as the book does not take any overtly judgmental line with anyone. That's not to say that I personally don't agree that Claudia is a self-absorbed, psychologically hurtful and problematic woman, but I've also tried to provide context and causality for the way she is. In other words, while not envisioning her as a particularly likeable character, I have tried to present her as a human being rather than a stock and stereotypically adulterous, gold-digging woman/monster. (The one exception to this rule seems to be Tommy Lange, who very much comes off as a two-dimensional "type.")

As for Michael, he intends to be a good guy but has obviously made some bad choices and continues to act out with philandering behavior patterns, which, though perhaps intended as a balm for his pain around his problematic marriage, only seem to enhance that pain. Clearly he should be confronting Jess, discussing things, seeking counseling, and, if it came to this, actively and responsibly pursuing a divorce. Instead he sneaks around with Claudia and tries to justify his actions to himself. More pathetic yet, he once made out with his sister-in-law Leah at a Christmas party and he still harbors feelings of longing for her. There could be no woman more wrong for him than Leah and yet he's drawn to her. I think it's safe to infer that somewhere inside Michael is a weakness that leads him to be attracted to "fantasy" women -- all of whom seem to become fantasies due to some mixture of physical beauty and emotional inaccessibilty -- rather than women who would be appropriate mates, capable of engaging in an "adult" relationship based on mutual love and respect and equality.

In "The Invisible World," you have a situation in which Michael encounters a 27-yr.-old pediatrics resident from Seattle, another woman who is clearly wrong for him. On top of which, the woman seems very interested in going out with him. In this chapter, the reader also finds out about Michael's brother, Daniel, which in my mind sheds some light on his nature as an adult. There are obviously unresolved issues around his younger brother, who continues to be an invisible presence in his life. And somehow, in this one scene (perhaps with Daniel's assistance), he overcomes the pull he always feels toward such a woman and does the what most would construe as the "right" thing, which is to go home and bring his kids ice cream. I think of this chapter as Michael's version of "The Temptation of St. Anthony," only that Michael, in his weakness, has probably failed the test 600 times before. For once, he passes.

3) Re: trusting the reader. So far as understand it, this idea amounts to the basic principle of not talking down to readers or giving more assistance than is necessary with figuring things out. One has to trust that the reader will be able to pick up anything that has been effectively placed within the narrative and not assume that readers need extra help, even if things are at times presented subtly or obliquely. For instance, I trust that the reader will pick up things such as the fact that the boy who comes into the hospital in "The Invisible World" is the same boy who appeared in the previous ch., although the boy is never named. There are enough details to suggest it, so in my mind there wasn't any need to restate what happened in the previous chapter. Likewise, I trust the reader to pick up the fact that Leah (In the chapter "Love")-- from the very first shot of her sitting with him, holding his hand, in ICU -- has been in an affair with the unnamed "friend"/stroke victim. Later, we find out exactly who he was and what went on, but in that first view of her in ICU there's no moment in which a narrator comes in to help by saying "Michael saw her there and determined that she must have been having an affair with whoever the stroke victim was" -- which would certainly be so overt that any reader who HAD picked up on the subtlety of the situation would immediately be annoyed for not having been trusted to pick up what is signaled clearly, even if subtly, by the narrative.

With regard to "writer instinct" about all this, my sense is that there is a fine line between what is too much and what is not enough to establish the crucial contexts, and I think every writer wrestles with this question and hones this instinct as his/her writing evolves over the years. For instance, I'll tell you that the character, Eddie Fischer, who shows up in the chapter "Angels Like Audrey Hepburn" has already been introduced, very obliquely, in part I of the book. That reference, if you pick it up, will explain A LOT about what's going on in the "Angels..." chapter. However, no one has ever picked it up without my cuing them to it (as I'm doing here). Yet I would not say this is a case of my being too trusting of the reader. Rather, it is a case where I wanted the reference to be very subtle, sort of a bonus for anyone who does pick it up, a bit like the Morgan Lafleur appearance in "Lost Meadows." In general, I like to set up the possibility of readers finding more if they go back and read something a second time. My first book, The Odd Sea, is also loaded with this type of thing.

There's a general principal that most nonwriters are as equally aware of as writers, since it goes with human nature. I first heard it from John McPhee, who taught a literary nonfiction course that I took in college. It amounts to this: if you respect your readers' intelligence, they will tend to read intelligently.

Frederick Reiken

January 11, 2001 - 09:19 am
Responses #3

Here are a few quick answers to shorter q's (longer answers on previous page):

-- No, I don't know the Shop Rite Rosenbergs

-- No, I don't know that there are band instruments lying anywhere in the Meadowlands. It was an invented detail. Note: Though the places and geographic details are accurate, all story contexts and details are invented.

-- Re: Betty Broderick. She's the woman from San Diego, right? If so, she played what might be a surprsing role in the gestation of this book. At a large Thanskgiving gathering in 1990, I actually met the school principal of the school where Betty Broderick's kids went (or, at least, the kids of some woman who drove her car through her husband's door and eventually, I think, murdered him and his lover.) I heard the story over dinner and wrote the rock-throwing scene prologue a few days later.

-- Re: two children, one cynical/realistic like Dani and one mythomaniac like Anthony. Well, all I can say is that between genetics, learned experience, gender difference, sibling order issues, and many other things, my sense is that such a dichotomy between siblings can occur -- and perhaps more often than not

-- Re: the cheerleader/shiva thing. No, I never heard of an actual case of this happening, but I'm sure it could have.

-- Re: headstones. In the Jewish tradition, there is an official "unveiling" of the headstone a year after death, in which people gather at the burial site. Also, it's a Jewish tradition to place little pebbles on headstones of loved ones to signal that you've been there.

January 11, 2001 - 09:22 am
Oh Mr. Reiklen, how pleased we are to have you here with us. I lived very close to Jersey shore and spent many a summers vacation there. shop Rite is mentioned numerous times throughout the novel. Are you a personal friend of the Rosenbergs?

betty gregory
January 11, 2001 - 01:48 pm
Whatever we're paying Reiken, let's double it. I don't know whether to remind him that we're all ages here, 30s on up, therefore, he must join us occasionally as a reader/participant (wouldn't that be terrific) or to suggest that we've found our first official instructor for a bonafide semester-long (or quarter?) literature course. We've toyed with that prospect---can you imagine a better instructor? We've had several authors join our discussions, but none as patient or, pardon the word, instructive.

F. Reiken, thanks especially for the mini-course on the range of issues on writing to the reader's intelligence. I had never considered that an author could leave deliberate gems for a few readers, that different levels of reading were anticipated. What you wrote also reminded me that an in-person encounter with someone who says just enough is always somehow more satisfying than someone who explains and explains. No wonder we like the same in a book.

January 11, 2001 - 02:00 pm
Amen, Betty, I was thinking the same thing about his contribution here, just look what he has added already, I mean it's a....I don't know, what would you call it? A new dimension to our understanding, a boost?

I'm still trying to get over the continuum thing here with the sublayers, and the chapter headings, what an experience this has been already, it's unprecedented here for us and we're really grateful.

Going off to read the printed out posts from today and enjoy stretching my mind a little, what a great gift from Mr. Reiken, thank you very much, and thank you for explaining the factual details, and how you see Claudia, I need to reread Claudia again, does the fact that she worries about her own....I need to reread Claudia again.

I loved the explanation of the tradition of the small stones on the grave, I have always wondered what those piles of stones meant.


January 11, 2001 - 06:08 pm
Ella- that was actually very interesting and rather 'serious' itself when you think about it. New Jersey is to New York as Kentucky is to Cincinnati? There's something there, I think.

One of the really interesting things that always comes up when we have had authors join us here to talk about their work is the question of "cutting" - what was left in and what didn't make it. I find that fascinating.

The most intriguing aspect of Juliette's character was that very paradox that Mr. Reiken mentioned. She was one of the strongest characters in the book to me - and yet she was in that relationship that she refused to - or couldn't - get out of.

MarjorieElaine - are you still with us? You mentioned that you are reading The Odd Sea now also (and that they were written about the same time - I didn't know that). Lucccky you. I wish I had done that now after what the author has just said.

And gosh. I didn't pick up on the fact that the kid who came into the hospital in The Invisible World was Roland Melnick from Goodnight Kiss. Dum de Dum Dum.

In the context of Juliette's psychology, it was mentioned earlier how her view of her parents was the opposite of what you might expect. In Romero And Juliette, she remembers "that she never liked her [mother], but that she should have. It was so obvious. She was good. The problem was, she was also stupid. She'd let a thankless a**hole own her. Still Juliette managed to keep loving her thankless a**hole of a father." Unsaid, of course, is that Juliette also let a thankless a**hole (Tommy) own her!. I thought is was telling that, as the chapter ends, Juliette, cleaning up the blood of her father who has been beaten, "recalls the way her mother used to sing while she cleaned the kitchen. Stupid songs?" Is she seeing a comparison between her mother and herself here? Wiping up her fathers blood is she just angry again at her mother for leaving her with him?


January 11, 2001 - 09:35 pm
Yes, I am still here--and so excited because I just got on here and read all of the messages from our author--and he even mentioned my very early comment about legends!! Now I think I will have to go back and read both The Odd Sea and Lost Legends again--I renewed them at the library this morning before I got all excited about these additional insights from our author. Remember I just joined this group a few weeks ago, so you will have to understand my being so amazed to have seen both Marilyn Krysl and Frederick Reiken take the time to converse with us.

Charlie--I found out about him writing the two books simultaneously in the interview or reviews that I read on this site. The links were there at the beginning of this discussion and I always like to read them. As I remember it, he said that when he got stuck on one novel, he worked on the other for a while.

My latest thought--ALL of the women in this novel are warped in some way, not just Juliette. I guess the novel is built on legends and it is about how people deal with the lost and losses, so maybe I should not expect to find women who have some more traditional values or who are more emotionally stable, etc.? Just something I am mulling over. Marge

betty gregory
January 12, 2001 - 01:33 am
MarjorieElaine, (what a beautiful name, by the way, and one that reminds me of a cousin I adored, MaryElaine), on your thought about all the women being "warped in some way," I might want to quibble with your word warped, but not with your observation that something has happend to these women. My inclination would be to turn to what has happened to each; therefore, my focus would on warped behavior from others that they endured.

January 12, 2001 - 06:19 am
Hi, I joined just when I read the author's notes.Wow! I picked up the book from our library shelf because of New Jersey in the title. The level and pastel landscape of New Jersey,particularly of its southern shores, has always been soothing to me although it is not my native state.When I first started reading this story,it seemed to me like my computer screen with a window here and one there but I became accustomed to shifts in scenes and characters and couldnd't put the book down.I wonder if some of you felt that the greatest loss in the book was the loss of self which I thought was evident in all characters except Anthony and his grandfather, Max.I can't wait to read this author's other book, The Odd Sea.

January 12, 2001 - 07:46 am
Welcome, Iman!

I totally agree with you, total WOW, loved your take on the loss of self!

Except Anthony and his grandfather?????!!!!!!

BACK to the BOOK I go, this is really fun!


January 12, 2001 - 09:45 am
I am sorry about my long name--I kept trying to use names that were already taken so put it in impulsively and of course that one was not in use. I hope I am the only Marge in Books and Lit right now.

I think it was too late at night when I used the word "warped" and that was not really what I wanted to say at all. I was just trying to see if anyone else had a reaction as they read the book to the way the female characters are depicted. Actually after I finished reading both books, I thought the author does not like women. But his messages to us reminded me again that he is showing incidents in the characters' lives and how that character would have tried to make sense of it. And I believe he succeeds.

I am really impressed by the people who are here! This is so much fun! Marge

Ella Gibbons
January 12, 2001 - 10:18 am
Charlie said that to him Juliette was the strongest character in the book (I think I'm quoting him right); what do the rest of you think?

Jess overcame so much that she certainly deserves to be called the most courageous, what with her mental illness, married to a very weak man who is constantly having affairs and who knows that Jess knows, isn't that weird? Their relationship is almost unbelievable in many ways, but I'm not a psychologist and have never understood why women stay with such men. She has found peace at last alone with her various hobbies or so it seemed to me.

I'm enjoying all of your posts - YES, it is fun. We all come from such varied backgrounds and have different opinions and it's just as if we were sitting around a big dining room table with a cup of coffee and discussing relationships, weaknesses in character, children, etc.

Mr. Reiken's appearance was such a treat and I'd love to sit in his classroom, might even be inspired to attempt to create a story. I took two writing classes in college and to my surprise I was much better at nonfiction than creative writing or fiction.

January 12, 2001 - 06:00 pm
Welcome Iman

I see in your personal information that you are a a retired language teacher. I would appreciate your letting us know what languages you have taught as I know no other than English so that makes you so interesting to me.

Thank You, Ginger

January 13, 2001 - 08:27 am
Hi, thank you for the welcome. That really made me feel great. there were so many great lines in this book- one that I particularly liked was at the very end " -loving anyone means having to face the pain of separation". Was anyone a little disappointed that Alex and Anthony couldn't make it together. At least it would have been kind of cute with A-A-ouch.sorry.

January 13, 2001 - 08:43 am
I found myself pulling for Alex and Anthony too. Sometimes I believe there are many fated others - the right place, the right time has a lot to do with it. Iman: I think "loving anyone means having to face the pain of separation" rings a lot truer than "love is never having to say you're sorry"!!!


I liked this section in Part II, too:

You ache for someone, not Jenny Walsh. Someone you feel inside, who ceaselessly eludes you. You've always carried around this magical anticipated romance. It's like a cloud, Michael, that keeps on moving with you all your life. Someone like Jess appears. The cloud comes down. You throw it over Jess. Then she becomes your cloud, embodied. You can feel everything through her. Soon she won't hold the cloud. You throw it down on Claudia. After Claudia, you're left with the cloud again. Now until someone new appears this cloud is longing. If she appears, the cloud may turn, just for that moment, into joy. But when is love just love and not a cloud or is it all just cloud?


That's very well done and related to more instances than love or romance, I think, that's great. I would think that this passage, like several others in the book deals with things hard to articulate but which many people feel, nonetheless.


And what is good fiction after all, but the writing of "things hard to articulate but which many people feel, nonetheless."?

I've reread the author's comments now and really appreciate his hint toward the first oblique reference to Eddie Fischer (again, love the names)...I think I found it, want to see if everybody else finds it, I may be wrong, too.

I don't think I would have seen it at first, had it not been pointed out, again, a benefit of having Mr. Reiken among us.

I'm not going to start on Part III ahead of the game except to say that I'm having a problem finding substance in these female characters. A real problem. I don't mean they're not well written or drawn, I mean they are ultimately, after we learn of their present lives and some of their childhoods, disappointments: of no substance or character personally, despite an almost praeternatural intelligence or knowledge in the younger women which they blurt out from time to time.

I notice that in his previous remarks Mr. Reiken says that he presented these characters with compassion, "leaving the reader to be the ultimate judge of their actions, as the book does not take any overtly judgmental line with anyone."

I keep waiting for the relevation, perhaps somewhat like the cloud Michael experienced, I still like that metaphor very much, I keep getting involved in each description of each character introduced, all the extraneous stuff, the actions of the character, and waiting for the flash, the one flash of something I can.....respect is not the word.....relate to is not the word...admire or appreciate in these women. These female characters with the exception of Dani so far, are not people you would trust or admire.

Are they?

None of them. Why is that? Am I reading it incorrectly? Does this imply that all women ultimately are like this? I spent Part III screaming at them, "Grow UP, for Pete's sake!"

They are all disappointments in the end,(I have only finished Part III and I sure hope there's a ressurection of somebody in the end here) in their own lives, their own aimless helplessness, and their own lack of character.

Is there any female character who is not aimless, drawn toward what she knows is wrong but powerless to stop it, or shallow and drifting, or... depending on her age, commiting adultery, or running away from her life and her own children, ....the book is peopled with these half lives and it's well written enough to make me feel bad to say that. I guess I feel I should be compassionate, but I myself am disappointed in them.

There's a shallowness here in the characters's lives that I just don't understand. In some ways, these characters remind me, strangely, of Updike's, there's a.....I lack the words to describe these women and their total lack of anything I would find admirable. Maybe that's the point.

I've read 237 pages and find no person I would care to befriend. Now I have to wonder if this says more about me or them.


betty gregory
I haven't read as far as you have, Ginny, so I'm not on solid ground relating some of my thoughts to this book. Your comments here, though, remind me vaguely (not more than that) of other moments in other discussions when you grew impatient for women to show their stuff, to get a grip, or, I'm reaching for words here, to exhibit some substance (to use your word in the previous post). Those were some of the times when I went in the other direction and (probably) projected damage upon women in their powerless lives.

Even though I, too, grow weary of reading of less than powerful women (power over their own lives), I lean in the direction of finding the social environment lacking, not the women.

Betty, to me, the choice to have an adulterous affair lasting 26 years with somebody else's husband and loving father, when you yourself have a husband and children is selfish and self centered and not worthy of anything but....well....uh......social environment?

Well I do know people in these circumstances, it's not as strange as one might think. I personally think you make decisions every day for your own self, every day. I did feel a little sorry for Jess in the airport, she did seem to be very depressed (again getting ahead of myself, sorry...I will wait) but leaving her own children?

Again, we here in the Books are about our own opinions, kinda like a marriage, hahahaa: for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer and not for self centered adultery that lasts 26 years or whatever it was!@ PLEASE!!!!!!!!

Give me a break!

Ella Gibbons
I feel differently, Ginny, about Jess. Of all the characters in the book, most of whom I would never consider a friend, I understand Jess' somewhat and understand her motives in leaving her children. Of course, it is something unthinkable for most of us!

But the book began with Jess throwing stones in Claudia's windows and crying hysterically - remember that Anthony was so ashamed of her behavior - and she knew that cutting herself was unusual behavior, didn't she characterize that feeling as being ready to explode? Something along those lines. And I think she felt that continuing to live in the home, with all its inherent problems, would possibly result in a situation far worse. It is possible that with her mental problems she might be leaving the children anyway for an institution of some kind with the added burden of knowing that her children would never feel comfortable around her again.

It was either leave on her own terms and try to find peace within herself or leave in the care of attendants with terrible scenes in the memories of her children. I think it was an act of courage on her part, am I very much mistaken?

There were other clues about Jess, I believe, but can't remember them at the moment.

The question to me is, were these characters true to themselves? Were their actions here subsequently explained sufficiently by our knowledge of the "social environment" as we came to understand it in our reading? By our knowledge of the choices they made and why they made them? Did the choices they made early on impact who they became later in life?

Jess: Ginny has a problem with Jess' leaving her children - as most right-thinking people would. But does it seem like something Jess would do - given who she was - given her illness? I think so. And so it makes sense to me. Does this mean that most women are self-centered and would leave their children to find themselves? Or does the author imply this? I don't see how we can make that assumption.

It is just as reasonable to see her actions, as Ella seems to, as an act of courage. So I could say I admire Jess, although the necessity to find characters to admire is not a prerequisite for my reading. Just want 'em flesh and blood.

Claudia: She made certain choices and the results were not as she had wished. Isn't she now reaping what she sowed? I guess I would feel disappointed in a character if I felt they had shown the potential to make other choices - otherwise not.

Juliette- Her final choices are a bit more interesting. Let's talk about those when the time comes.


PART III: In LOVE, we meet the secret Leah Kleinfeld, who once told Michael that he had "no idea what it is to love." Michael has found Leah at the hospital, watching over the final hours of her high school sweetheart (her b'shert?) - not her husband. Not having felt able to marry because of the social constraints (she from a strict orthodox Jewish family and he an Irish Catholic) they had carried on a 26-year affair.

In HOCKEY PLAYER MYTH, Alex Brody (Anthony's b'shert?) is seen by Anthony and many others as his "fairy tale" lover. She understands that Anthony's problem is that he just wants fantasies - and not real relationships - that he's essentially afraid of getting to know anyone. In her view, he's not living an authentic life - he's bought into the "hockey player myth that says: score the winning goal and people will want to be with you. Later though, this particular myth seems to play itself out when he does score the winning goal and later loses his virginity with Alex.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF SADNESS, finds Jess is struggling to regain control of her life after a brief and somewhat sordid affair with her diving instructor. She has come north to baby-sit her sister Leah's thirteen year old son Timmy, and to get up the courage to visit with her own kids. From A Brief History of Kabalistic Mysticism, Jess and Timmy discuss the concepts of "the shortening of the way" and "endless nothingness." !! Finally she does have a reunion with her children.

More Legends in WOLVES: the story of Juliette's maternal great-grandmother and the story of the three-legged wolf. As Juliette and Anthony become close friends, she seems to be reaching out for him and pulling away at the same time. Juliette searches for the wolves in her own life, for the wolf in herself, for the wolf in Anthony - but is only disappointed that the wolves in the local zoo don't live up to the legends.

Back in the present in ANGELS LIKE AUDREY HEPBURN, Anthony has finished his visit with his mother in Florida and is waiting at the airport for his return to New Jersey. They run into an old friend of Jess' from High School, Eddie Fischer (her B'shert?). The missed connection of Eddie and Jess at the airport (and in their lives) is played out as Anthony s reading the story of Lancelot and Guinevere: '"the most painfully beautiful scene [he] can imagine."


Good discussion here.

Charlie said, "In LOVE, we meet the secret Leah Kleinfeld, who once told Michael that he had 'no idea what it is to love.' Michael has found Leah at the hospital, watching over the final hours of her high school sweetheart (her b'shert?) - not her husband. Not having felt able to marry because of the social constraints (she from a strict orthodox Jewish family and he an Irish Catholic) they had carried on a 26-year affair. "

OK you either have "social constraints" or you don't. Which is it? In the case of the Orthodox Jew and the Irish devout Catholic, neither of those religions allow for adultery, either, do they? I thought Lust was one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

Oh this is not lust, this is love, I forgot.

Ella mentions Jess's act of courage, that's a great viewpoint, Ella. I disagree, but I could see, there in the airport, with her leaving to avoid Eddie (now that in itself you could talk over for a year, why IS it these characters can't even meet after all these years without...well....again with the clue in the first thing, seems to me that Eddie might have grown up a bit in the interim, but apparently not)...but she came back.

I thought then that it may be the opinion of many here she's courageous in several different ways, and am glad that Ella has brought it up. Wonder how the rest of you see it?

Betty, by the way, I do appreciate that "heads up," had no idea I had expressed these sentiments before and will be careful not to be a one trick pony in future, nobody wants to hear same song second verse, from anybody.

I have to say this, don't know if you all were watching television last night but I left this discussion of Jess and Claudia and Leah (interesting choice of name again) and walked into the kitchen where the television was playing after the news went off, a concert by the Dixie Chicks, are you familiar with them?

And just as I reached for the knob, the most amazing thing occurred, they launched into their rendition of the very controversial "Good-bye, Earl," do you know it?

I was transfixed at what appeared to be 50,000 female fans of all ages, all screaming the words to the song, arms in the air, fists pumping, every word known, it was unreal. "Good-bye Earl" is another "he done her wrong" story with a twist. Boy does it have a twist. There were men holding up signs, "Earl Was Framed, " and some sheepishly and nervously with that kind of grin that is only called...well, I leave it to you, singing along.

The energy and the force were unbelievable and I laughed out loud, tho my husband found it a bit of a stretch to apply it to what we were discussing here, but it WAS the point. Point/ Counterpoint.

I was interested in Mr. Reiken's statement:

-- Re: Betty Broderick. She's the woman from San Diego, right? If so, she played what might be a surprsing role in the gestation of this book. At a large Thanskgiving gathering in 1990, I actually met the school principal of the school where Betty Broderick's kids went (or, at least, the kids of some woman who drove her car through her husband's door and eventually, I think, murdered him and his lover.) I heard the story over dinner and wrote the rock-throwing scene prologue a few days later.

Thank you VERY much for that, of course we'd never have known.

Here is the Broderick family of La Jolla, California, I think, not sure, in happier times: The Brodericks

Actually the Broderick story seems to have several parallels to this one, Dan Broderick was a physician AND an attorney who specialized in malpractice cases. He did have an affair and she did go beserk.

Like many women of the time, after watching the two TV movies with Meredith Baxter Birney I totally sided with the poor wronged wife, but somewhere in the third book about them I realized the truth: she was a nut.

She is about to get out on parole, by the way, so we may be reading more about her yet.

In this instance, once again, the children suffered. I'm not going to belabor the point but here again the woman in all of her choices did not consider the ultimate welfare of the children, who apparently suffered terribly.

I would be very surprised if the Principal of the high school the children attended thought very highly of her choices, but it's possible that the principal of my own children's high schools didn't think highly of mine, either.

Sic transit....

Good Bye, Earl


Ella Gibbons
That's the first time, Ginny, I've seen that big REAL PLAYER screen, but all I heard of the song was "It didn't take us long to figure that Earl had to die" - or something like that.

Almost all the songs in the past were ones that portrayed the "wronged woman" - reminiscent of "Frankie and Johnnie" - and I never thought much about it; perhaps it's a carryover of the Puritans where all women were pure, but the man could do as he pleased?

Ginny and Betty, you both were talking about Leah I believe - we really should take this book a chapter at a time instead of a section. Perhaps a chapter a day - is it as confusing to you as it is to me to jump around in the book?

Leah's 26-year affair was reprehensible and sinful for both she and her lover, Paul; however, it's another case of religion ruining lives. Leah married to please her Orthodox parents not herself - what kind of deed do you call that? Is it sinful? Should she have stayed forever unmarried? Should she forever be doomed only to think of her children and never to know the love of a man? What happens when her children have gone from the home and she lives with an unloved man the rest of her life?

I'm certainly not condoning her affair, I think it was wrong and sinful, but the old cliche of "walking in another's shoes" is not easily put asunder (is that a word?)

Ella Gibbons
Another thought just occurred to me. As with Claudia's husband, we don't a thing about Leah's husband either, do we? Is there an emphasis in this book on licentious women?

Hi, I wanted to say something in defense of Jess. I thought her stone throwing episode was mild compared to getting a gun and settling scorelike so many do today.And I thought rather than go thru a nasty court battle or constant fighting at home,just to take off was in some ways a "kinder"action. Also,didn't she have a rather poor beginning for this marriage with family problems re approval,etc.?

betty gregory
Ginny, you never sound like same song, second verse.....you never do, but if you did, some songs are worth hearing again and again. I was also commenting on MY inclination to over-assume that a woman is a product of oppressive circumstances, to always let her off the hook. Or to let people off the hook. Social context is my favorite song.


Here's a recurring thought....that our author's idea of legends is not where our discussion is. In fact, I'm having a difficult time imagining any book discussion group focusing on "legends" as explained to us....there are just too many interesting issues....for instance, where are these men that we don't learn about? Juliette's father?? in the first part??...you know, his wife killed herself. And Claudia's husband??

Social constraints, as mentioned, that produce half or more of our characters? Is that where the discussion is? IS the author's point of view about legends in our discussion....with semantics as an issue? Are we talking of the same things with similar words, concepts?

Ella, I've enjoyed your last few posts so much....my feelings about people doing the best they can under the circumstances fit with your words.

A recent personal experience has left me drained, disbelieving, impatient----all because, in my view, someone can't see, or can't take the time to see, the many layers of a problem. Is so quick to make an assessment from the most obvious facts without considering how many other unseen facts/layers there MUST be. I feel this same frustration, too, at doctors' appointments, when I feel like just a diagnosis to someone, not a multi-layered person to LISTEN TO.

Ella Gibbons
Yes Iman - I agree with you that ----a nasty court battle or constant fighting at home,just to take off was in some ways a "kinder"action. And it has been mentioned also that Jess' parents were Orthodox Jews, but Jess loved her husband, Michael, when she married him. I don't think religion was the issue with her marriage as it was with Leah's marriage.

And, Betty, it does seem that we are forgetting the "Legends" issue and dealing with social constraints with most of these characters. Also interesting is that we are focusing on the adults in the book and not the young people. Is it because of our age? Why are they more interesting to us than the teenagers? Charlie has tried to divert our attention to them on a number of occasions and yet we revert back to them in our discussion.

Perhaps I should clarify my stance on religion playing a part in the ruination of people's lives - I think of the Israelis and the Palestinians and what is causing such bloodshed among them. I had a good friend some years ago, a black man, an educated man with a Ph.D., who told me that religion had kept the black people from asserting their rights for decades. Their gospel hymns, wish I could think of some now, and their belief in the "reward of heaven" kept them satisfied with their lot in life or at least from rebellion - perhaps it is fitting that I mention this today as it is Martin Luther King Day; however, King was a religious man and a great leader who led the African-Americans on a peaceful crusade and is to be revered.

An observation: I have often noticed a much more visceral reaction to any hint of "adultery" in women than in men. The moral lines, frankly, are much more deeply drawn it seems to me.
Is it not possible, that left to their own desires and aspirations, Leah and Paul Haney might have married and "lived happily ever after." Perhaps "social constraints" is not the right phrase - maybe parental strictures is more like it, maybe cultural biases, maybe artificial socio-cultural mores. Does it really make sense to force two young people into a marriage that in their hearts they know is not right? And all because of these (to me) absurd cultural edicts? This is adultery waiting to happen. The sin of Pride came before the sin of adultery - maybe one led to the other. All I'm saying is that Leah and Paul are not entirely to blame. They were forced by those devout moral pressures put to bear on them in the name of heritage and yes, religio-ethnic purity to betray themselves - in the false name of the greater good. Outrageous. Allow people to make their own moral choices free of these artificial rules and those moral choices will much more often be the right one.


Alex Brody is Anthony's "fairy tale" girlfriend. She's perfect for him - everyone says so. (Barry Kleinfeld was perfect for Leah too. Everyone said so.) There are many reasons why the larger social group might make these types of determinations about one member of the group. Frequently though, those determinations are not in the best interest of the individual. Alex seems to understand this about Anthony. "You just want fantasies," she tells him. An authentic way of being, an authentic relationship requires conscious choice by the individual, not acquiescence to those choices foisted upon us by the larger social group. One has to choose for him or herself. Anything else is the real fantasy. The real myth. "Just some hockey player myth" Alex tells Anthony.

Charlie, Betty, Iman, Ella, what wonderful points you are making, here are some of your ideas kinda lumped together that I thought were marvelous, it's sort of a point counterpoint here, let me play once again Devil's Advocate:

  • Leah's 26-year affair was reprehensible and sinful for both she and her lover, Paul; however, it's another case of religion ruining lives. Leah married to please her Orthodox parents not herself - what kind of deed do you call that? Is it sinful? Should she have stayed forever unmarried? Should she forever be doomed only to think of her children and never to know the love of a man? What happens when her children have gone from the home and she lives with an unloved man the rest of her life?

    What? Is this the Emperor of Japan we're talking about here in an arranged marriage? Should she have stayed forever unmarried? Should she forever be doomed and never to know the love of a man? What happens when the kids are gone and she lives with an unloved man?

    So she's "dooomed" if she does not know the love of a man? So the kids are gone and she "has" to live with an unloved man?

    I guess it depends upon your personal definition of doomed.

    Boy that's pretty hard on Leah's real husband, isn't it? Has anybody asked him about this?

    If she does not love her present husband who is to blame here?

    I do love a discussion where you can debate the character's motivations, where the characters are sufficiently filled out enough to even engage you.

    So to remain forever unmarried would be some sort of curse? And if the kids are gone, she, having done a good job by being what she was suppposed to be in the first place when she gave birth to those children , a supportive, loving mother who was there for them...then if she could not bring self to live with this...unloved spouse, could then be free to "find herself, " and if she needed to divorce him to do it, then she should do so.

    You have obligations when you bring a child into the world, and one of them is to grow up and face reality, and be there for them.

    The fact of the matter is, somebody asked why we're focusing on the women? Because the men all have redeeming graces, that's why?

    Michael shows kindness in arranging for Leah to be alone with the body of her former great love. He shows kindness in putting down the jugs of cider. Michael does have redeeming graces, they may not be much on the Richter Scale of graces, but he has some.

    What is Claudia's? Where kindness? Where nobility? Where?

    OK we can understand that Jess is not well, wonderful point about the exploding, Ella, wonderful points altogether.


  • And I thought rather than go thru a nasty court battle or constant fighting at home,just to take off was in some ways a "kinder"action. Also,didn't she have a rather poor beginning for this marriage with family problems re approval,etc.?

    OK here we are just talking about fundamental differences in opinion, naybe. I'm not sure that Jess's actions were predicated on being kind, she seems to run away a lot, and it does seem that's the very best effort she can make. Unlike Claudia she does not seem inherently mean. But then having run away she lets a month go without contacting her frantic children, and this is.....

    Not sure here, but I can accept that Jess is a gentle soul and was not prepared or ready for the battle that her life became, I can, because of your comments, feel sympathy for her. And I would be totally sympathetic, but in leaving her children, she crossed the line with me? And thus I really, I'm sorry, can't deal with Jess any more.

    Her husband's infedilities were not her doing or fault. She has chosen because, apparently she felt had no other choices or resources, social conditioning, to internalize all this and take it out on herself.

    I'm sorry for her but I'm sorrier for her children.

  • Here's a recurring thought....that our author's idea of legends is not where our discussion is.

    That's a good one, Betty, how can we get on that track?

    Charlie, by the way, those are fabulous questions in the heading!

  • Also interesting is that we are focusing on the adults in the book and not the young people. Is it because of our age? Why are they more interesting to us than the teenagers? Charlie has tried to divert our attention to them on a number of occasions and yet we revert back to them in our discussion.

    Maybe because we have been where they are, and we understand how, normally, people mature, and that the adults in this piece, to a man and woman, are immature themselves, so that we are dealing with the teenagers, they are just old teenagers.

    That's a great point, Ella, and makes me think who the adults really ARE in this piece?

    There's a lot of talk about religion in this discussion and I'm not looking this up, how does it go:

    When I was a child I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man I put away childish things

  • All I'm saying is that Leah and Paul are not entirely to blame.

    If they are not to blame for a 26 year affair, who is? Their children? Their spouses? Can a grown adult blame his parents after 26 years?

    Affairs are hard to conduct, so I've been told, and very wearing on everybody concerned. 26 years is a long time. Now that they are so mature and have found selves, what is keeping them from divorcing and remarrying? Here one canNOT answer religion, please, please.

  • Allow people to make their own moral choices free of these artificial rules and those moral choices will much more often be the right one.

    Who makes artificial rules after 26 years?

    This is fun. We are discussing the characters as if they are real and we are debating the issues the characters raise. In answer to the question in the heading of was the 26 year affair a farce or a tragedy, it was neither in my opinion.

    In answer to question number 2 about Alex and Anthony, that he just needed a mother is a good one. Her remark to him was kind of startling, to me, and maybe uncalled for, although, as we know, true.

    I also found interesting their signs, for some reason. Although I have inlaws in which an Aquarian man is married to a Leo women, normally Aquarius hates the very sight of Leo. In fact, Leo is the only sign Aquarius can't get along with, it's interesting, that juxtaposition between Alex and Anthony, I thought.

    What, by the way, does all the emphasis on the constellations mean? Different stars, different charts or are they?

  • CharlieW
    The words “doomed” and “cursed” are a bit charged, for me. I don’t think I used them (I hope not). I only have some sympathy for where Leah ended up. Yes – she ultimately made and is responsible for her own choices. I’m just trying to see how difficult those choices were, and how outside factors brought an inordinate amount of pressure to bear on her personal decisions. I don’t see this as the cheap, modern, late-life epiphany: “find oneself”, “need more space”. She buried her “self” as a young adult, and she knew it. True, true, true – it’s all unfair for her children - for her husband - and for Leah!. Ok. Life is unfair. Deal with it, (grow up) etc., etc. If ultimate blame needs to be placed here – then it’s hers – it’s just that I’m not focused on the blame issue.

    Interesting, Ginny, that you say that only the men have redeeming graces. Aren’t you actually being more forgiving to Michael than to Leah? Aren’t you being harsher on the women here? They’re both cheaters (Michael and Leah), after all. Is it because, the idea of nurturing motherhood is clouding your judging them equally? Again – and this fascinates me….the idea of betraying motherhood is almost inconceivable to women. Am I wrong? Take my wife (no jokes, please)….against capitol punishment – but touch a child and she’s pulling the switch! It seems that there are codes of ethics and morals and then there is the line over which everything changes. Is this a fundamental difference between men and women?

    Now – are we to learn lessons here from the choices the “adults” made? Or more to the point, are there lessons here for the young adults: Anthony, Juliette, Dani, Alex…?? How can all this relate to them?


    Hi, I was thinking that the "fixes" the author put his characters in were so human-God help us all- I was also wondering how the 'kids'felt when they knew that their parents had slept with another person-particularly when they were neighbors. I thought the renunion of Anthony and Jay was interesting. Also, about religion, a college teacher once told me "the worst crimes in the world have been committed in the name of God" I wonder if this book had an extension, if Anthony and Juliette would get together. Was that a typical community gossip to say her father was a mafia when he was just a cheap,two-bit gambler?

    Iman - The fight that Jay and Anthony had after they both came to a full realization of the parent's affair was sad, wasn't it? Not only was the reunion of Anthony and Jay interesting - but also interesting that Juliette made it her mission to bring them back together. I agree that it was essentially "community gossip" regarding Juliette's father. But also, more of that Legend making. When we surround ourselves with Legends, it somehow makes our lives more interesting, no? Is that the dynamic at work here?


    betty gregory
    Iman, I couldn't agree more, that the fixes the author has created for his characters are so human.

    Ginny, your outrage at children being left by a mother---this highlights how we still see the mother-children connection in a different light than father-children. Maybe you get just as upset when fathers leave their children, but the first outrage is the usual one. When there is leaving to do, the children will be with one parent (usually); so why not a mother leaving...in the same value as a father leaving?

    We're missing some important points, though, if we get stuck in how wrong was the wrong that a wrong character did.

    What I notice, more than anything, is how entrenched, how stuck these very human characters are. A 26 year affair? Good grief, think of the lives that could have developed and grown if they weren't so bogged down by their earlier choices. This is really SAD!! Two sets of husbands and wives and children could have had very different, healthier lives. And you're right (Ginny?) about the hard work an affair that long would have cost...COST! They are all paying...losing out on a different way of being.

    Oh, what idiots we all are in these rule-initiated, stuck lives we live. The characters speak right to me....I end up thinking...what am I bogged down, stuck in...that I could be doing differently??

    Ella Gibbons
    Oh, all of you have such interesting opinions, it is all just fascinating to me and there is just no way I could remember all those comments. Did smile though when Ginny said these adults were just "old teenagers." Indeed, she's right!

    Have we exhausted the subject of the two couples and their affairs yet?

    In reading about Anthony and Alex's affair, here we see the mythomaniac that the author alluded to. Anthony does have fantasies, but do not all boys his age? He fantisizes about all the girls, even Alex who tried being his mother for awhile and succeeded to some extent do you agree? Remember Anthony calling his mother when he was nervous?

    And I was struck by the end of this episode when Alex said she was going to pull the plug, somewhat reminiscent of the preceding chapter when the plug was pulled on Paul.

    Ella, yes. I liked that scene too when Alex tells Anthony to look into her crystal ball (the flashing blue emergency light) and gaze upon his future. Anthony did and was momentarily blinded: "Then it died. She had pulled the plug." (I had missed the balance with the ending of the previous chapter that you pointed out - although Leah, to Michael's bemusement, altered the phrase to "grab the plug." Can we make anything of this pulling of the plug by Alex? Maybe simply that one's future is not to be found in the dazzle of a blinding light - in the temporary, ephemeral things. When those things are finished, as they will be - one is faced with the blank slate of ones future. We make our own future by our choices - it isn't writ down somewhere…Maybe I'm overreaching here…

    Betty wonders about doing something different to reverse the affairs one is stuck in - and it could be said that Jess has made this decision. She's in about the same position that Anthony is when the plug is pulled. She's had her brief wild fling with Rob the Beautiful, but now she's feeling an "extreme sadness" in the aftermath. She's feeling "immobile." She feeling "paralyzed." In A BRIEF HISTORY OF SADNESS Jess tells us herself that "she half suspected that she wanted to be punished for her desertion of her life." The desertion of her own life. In fact she sees herself driving past herself on the highway, going in the opposite direction. That's a pretty good explanation of the choice she made for herself. A pretty good metaphor for the place she's at. It also struck me when re-reading her tell Rob about her cheerleading how her reasons for taking it up were a parallel to Anthony's Hockey Player Myth.

    Babysitting Leah's son, he asks her about kefitzat haderek - "the shortening of the way." Timmy believes he has had this sensation. Jess wonders what Timmy would want to hear upon first seeing his mother after an absence. He tells her that he just wants his mother to act normal." He wants it to be the same as it was before he or she went away. She picks up the phone and calls her kids. In a way, Timmy has shortened her way with his simple words. She picks up the phone and takes the first step to retrieving her own life.


    I've been thinking a lot about Anthony. At this point, what would you say the book is about? Whose perspective is it?

    Is it a sort of Bildungsroman? I keep thinking of our Magic Mountain discussion, do any of you remember that one? In that one we watched the young man encounter quite a few disparate people and events. He, too, was separated, in his case from his parents, and thrown into a strange and exotic location.

    For some reason I'm also thinking of The Fires of Spring another book about a young man thrown into situations and confrontations with people which seemed ...not exotic but certainly the way both these book started out, startling.

    It does make you want to see how Anthony comes out, in all this, what these circumstances he's encountering have done to him as a vulnerable soul, which, of course, he is.

    The cover illustration seems to suggest a triumph. I wonder how much input (I have always wanted to ask an author this, and if our author has not been driven off, yet , would like to know) how much input the author was given in the choice of art for the cover, or for that matter, in the format of the book at all???

    As for this in the heading: "sublime joy [goes] hand in hand with the deepest sadness"? That they are just "two different shades of the same color, " that is a very interesting thought, somewhere along the lines that people tell you something like you can't "hate" XX, because to hate, you have to first love XXX. That they are opposite sides of the same coin.

    I wonder if that's true, I think that Millay was right, success is counted sweetest by those who need it most, so that joy is really appreciated if you have experienced the opposite.

    But who can remain at the pinnacle of joy for long? Even in the midst of your greatest joyful triumph, it's hard to take it in, wonder why that is, too?


    I found this passage today and it reminded me of this discussion.
    "The events of childhood do not pass, but, they repeat themselves like seasons of the year." (Eleanor Farjeon)

    How sad to think of Anthony, Juliette, all of these characters repeating the sadness of their history.

    Andrea, I thought you had left! Glad to see you here. I actually have a great deal of respect for Juliette, I think she's tough. I think her coping skills are way beyond any I would ever have.

    Even though she did seem attracted to the dark side of Tommy, that was what she knew, but she is mature enough to try to overcome it. In many ways I think her character is the most complete of all, (so far).

    They say now that instead of the old "opposites attract," that what really happens is that somehow people who meet each other tie in to a shared or commonality in background and THAT'S what causes so many problems for so many people. They marry to get away from one thing but tend to marry it, instead.

    Tommy's brutishness is something she's familiar with but she has sense, too.

    I like Juliette. I hate to see poor Jay having to visit the zoo while Claudia has boyfriends over, am not sure about the Romeo application there, is Jay Romeo? And if so, how so?


    To me, the perspective of the book is Anthony's. It's his perspective that's the anchor of each section. One of the odd things about Juliette is that she seems to understand other people better than herself. She seems to have the right things to say to Anthony, but her personal life is a tougher problem for her to get a handle on. Come to think of it, the same can be said of other character in the book, do you think?

    In Wolves, Juliette plaintively urges Anthony to "Wake up." Wake up from what? What does she mean? I like what is said about Legends here too. Juliette tells a wonderful story about her great-grandmother Giulietta and her three-legged wolf. "She was a legend still in Italy, but in New Jersey all that was forgotten." Why do you think? Have we lost the capacity, in this new world" to believe in "old world" legends? Though she cherishes the story and fells it an integral part of her - still, confronted with two "bored and miserable" gray wolves at the local zoo, these "listless and pathetic" vestiges of the legend - she feels cheated. Looking into Anthony's eyes "for a spontaneous sign of recklessness", she sees none there. Juliette, it seems, is looking as much for Anthony to wake her up, as she is to wake up Anthony. Do you see some parallel here between the two wolves and to Anthony and Juliette?


    I went back to what the author wrote to us about the book. He said one way to take the book is as legends that are all about "lostness" or lost things. He said he conceived of the book as a series of New Jersey variety "legends" with each chapter having a sort of indivduality and a "legendary" aspect (if only to the principal character involved.) So each chapter consists of self-contained dramatic situations and experiences. He said some chapters like "In and Out of Moonlight" and "Romeo and Juliette" are a unique singular occurence unlike any other in the character's life. So we probably should not try to make it in to anything more.

    He said "Invisible World" was potentially significant to Michael as the time when he resisted his own weakness. "Joeyland" is a legendary place for Claudia. But his sentences that meant the most to me said that the book is about the problems of lost people, things, and places in which the losses ultimately become part of the fabric of these characters' unextraordinary lives. I guess most of us live unextraordinary lives except for a few dramatic and lifechanging experiences now and then--so no wonder those become legends as we tell and retell them to ourselves or to others. But I think we particularly have those times that we never forget when we are the age of Anthony and experiencing so many new and strange feelings as well as the freedom to go out socially. In real life not a book of legends, there would have been an aftermath to that party in "Dinosaurs" when Jason Beck's parents got home or the police arrived. Incidentally our author said "Dinosaurs" was the other dark chapter, but he felt the integrity of the book demanded that it and "Goodnight Kiss" be left in. I am glad he said he still cringes when he reads them! He also says Anthony creates legends as a way to protect himself against losses/absences of his unraveling family. I agree with Reiken that legends are very subjective, even wish-fueled revisions, of what really happened. I do it myself!

    I really like having the author come on here and share with us. Going back and rereading it helped me just accept the portrayals and not worry about why they did what they did. Maybe it is a legend, and not entirely the way it really was. Perhaps Timmy is a young Frederick Reiken. But I keep thinking his characters probably are based on many incidents and many people from his youth--I visualized him keeping a sort of journal and using it as a starting-point! Just my imagination.

    But I cannot find it--Frederick Reiken says he obliquely introduced Eddie Fischer in Part I. Where? Marge

    And your going back and re-capping helped me too, Marge. Thanks for taking the time. I can't find it either, Marge. Ginny says she found it, so maybe she'll tell.


    Larry Hanna
    On the subject of legends, I have to wonder if many families, due to moving around so, blended families, and the pace of life are not losing many of their family legends. Many of us only see close family a few days a year, if at that, and when is there time to share the legends. Both parents are often working today and probably don't take the time or have the energy to share the family legends they may know. It is really sad when you think about it.

    The one problem I have had with Juliette is that she treated Anthony very poorly by continuing her relationship with Tommy. I also have to wonder at the self-respect (or lack thereof) indicated in the actions of not only the adults but the young people. Of course, maybe the young people were merely following the examples they had observed with their parents.


    Interesting thoughts about legends, Larry. I think you make a good point. A point which seems to be seconded in Wolves, also: In Italy, when Giulietta was about twenty, the three-legged wolf died. The family marked the grave and Giulietta would visit it daily. The legend spread during the First World War as Giulietta became a burse to the Italian Army. But after the war, she left for America with her husband. But lost him on the way. She struggled like everyone else during the depression but went on to a new life with another husband and a new family - and lived until she was almost ninety.
    "She was a legend still in Italy, but in New Jersey all that was forgotten."
    In some ways the pace of life as the Twentieth Century gives way to the 21st increasingly becomes too hectic for legends. They seem from another time. More and more associated with the distant past and always with our youth. Legends themselves are Lost in our "maturity".


    Sorry, sorry sorry, leading another discussion, still hung up on the Romeo reference, that was a good point Larry about Juliette turning again from Anthony to Tommy, and Marge, I thought this was really good: "I guess most of us live unextraordinary lives except for a few dramatic and lifechanging experiences now and then--so no wonder those become legends as we tell and retell them to ourselves or to others."

    That's a great perspective.

    Charlie, your quote, "She was a legend still in Italy, but in New Jersey all that was forgotten" is really powerful, to me. There's a lot which gets lost in New Jersey, that notion this morning is just stunning.

    I'm also reminded this morning of Albert Payson Terhune who wrote of the Ramapo Mountains of Northern New Jersey...a place where legends abound and where people are like some lost Appalacian tribes or something. I thought he had made it all up, but turns out he didn't, South Jersey and South Philly might as well be Australia, for all the two regions know about the other. Legends abounding in the...is New Jersey still...the most heavily populated state (people per mile) in the United States?

    So we have legends and Lost Legends, and so can we understand how they differ and why they are important?

    On the prior mention of Eddie, I thought it was on page 51:
    Jessica Adelman was a cheerleader. She smoked cigarettes at the diner after games. Was she a prude? I'm afraid not. She'd once gone down on some star of the basketball team, even though that guy was dating her best friend. Her older sister was like that too, but a lot smarter. She kept a lid on things. She always did what her parents wanted........her younger sister? Forget that. She might was well have been a goy for all the Orthodox Jewish upbringing. Michael took all this information and mulled it over. Then he made sure to arrange that he and Jess would be in the same canoe.

    I believe and could be completely wrong, that that star of the basketball team is Eddie. How, then, does that influence Eddie and Jess in the airport?

    One of the big regrets I have with this book is that I don't have time personally to really read and reread it. It's the kind of book like the Englander and the Everett stories, that every time you read it you suddenly see something else.

    I wish I had had more time to really closely read it, just reading page 51 over again has a lot of things jumping out at me that weren't the first time and knowing that the author has such a careful organization here makes me feel I'm missing a lot.

    But thanks to this discussion, I'm learning a lot more than I would if I had read it alone.


    Ella Gibbons
    Charlie, I agree the perspective of the book is Anthony's - we see phrases such as Anthony smiled his watchful smile in every chapter.

    I'm just rereading the chapter - WOLVES - and I am struck again by religion being mentioned so many times in this book, and yet these characters certainly don't practice any part of Catholism or Judaism or what I perceive them to be. Juliette is wearing her mother's cross because she's feeling Catholic, she tells Anthony; however, she had never worn one before and took care to eschew all things connected to her religion.

    Charlie wondered why Juliette told Anthony to wake up and here we have Juliette putting her arms around his waist, holding his hand, kissing him, and Anthony still doesn't get it and she continues by telling him to wake up before she is gone. She wants Anthony, in an intimate way I think, but he's too young and inexperienced to know it and intimidated by her boyfriend, Tommy. As she and Anthony parted that day she "watched his eyes for a spontaneous sign of recklessness. She saw none." She was disappointed that Anthony has strength and innocence of resolve and none of the adventurous spirit that she possesses.

    Larry, perhaps that is the point of the book? We have lost our legends in families due to family structure and mobility, but what would be some of the legends in our nation's history? Certainly we all can think of some. I immediately think of the native Americans and their legends told and retold by succeeding generations.

    The Eddie Fisher reference is on page 227, Ginny, where Anthony and his mother are parting at the airport. Eddie, an old classmate, and Jess have an instant attraction for each other but Eddie is married, much to Jess' dismay. Everyone in this chapter is saying goodbye to someone, Eddie and Jess, Anthony and Jess, even Lancelot and Guinevere (which Anthony thinks is a most painful but beautiful scene in his book, but he loves the characters) and I don't how to interpret the whole story! Of course, the clues are with Anthony but I don't understand Anthony's feelings here other than he's the watchful observer of it all as he is throughout most of the book.

    Perhaps Anthony believes parting with his mother is painful also but realizes it's for the best???? Other than that, I'm lost here.

    Thanks for the reference Ginny. The basketball player. That's the one!

    You're right, Ella. This book is as much about "parting" as "loss" as it is about anything. And the "parting" continues into the next section. But the airport parting between mother and child, between old lovers lost and briefly found again….mirrored by the literary parting of Lancelot and Guinevere…We all hate airport goodbyes, don't we? Why do you think Anthony says that the characters of Lancelot and Guinevere are "somehow part of the air I breathe"? I believe he connects directly with these two "characters" who "aren't really people." There's that beauty-pain image again as represented by them. Each off to lives apart from each other - but forever connected. I think we see this parting mirrored, again, at Juliette's parting from Anthony later.


    betty gregory
    Have any of you seen the movie American Beauty with Annette Bening? Why does that movie remind me of this book? It definitely does, but I can't put my finger on why.

    I saw it, Betty, it's from the POV of the husband, that one, with adolescents trying to cope, again, with the antics of their parents. Well, perhaps this story is about more than it appears at the first.

    Perhaps some of the lost legends are about the legend of parent as perfect person.


    Ella Gibbons
    Is there a parent that's perfect? Wish I knew one.

    betty - Now that you mention it, the kids in American Beauty sure remind me of those in Lost Legends.... And the Annette Bening character reminds me of Sue in The Gilgul of Park Avenue, a short story under discussion elsewhere.

    Ella - Ginny brings up a good point. Perhaps the only perfect parents are those in legendary form. Quick personal note: My wife comes from a large family. She's one of seven kids. Many of the mates of these siblings sometimes have a difficult time living up to the legendary status of those parents (still with us).


    Ella Gibbons
    Charlie, someone the other day was talking about why Tom Brokaw thought the WWII generation was the greatest. That generation - that legendary generation - had come through rough times, the depression, the loss of jobs and then the war; all of which built character. And when prosperity came, they wanted much more for their children and gave them everything possible and, hence, we had the "60's" where the children who had been given all, rebelled against all.

    Perhaps each generation looks back on legends and each produces, in turn, their legendary figures but, of course, not all legends are good ones. Maybe some deserve to be lost forever.

    I'm sure you're right, Ella. That some "legends" are instructive and that some "legends" are destructive - and deserve to be, as you say, "lost forever." One might say they're most useful in our youth - but I wonder if they become less so as we grow older.


    betty gregory
    Ella, you made me think.......in the discussion of the "greatest" generation, so many real life stories did not live up to the legend, other stories were squeezed this way and that to fit. Some legends, maybe this one, take on a life of their own---and are known so well and so respected that you dare not question them. Another example, we are learning in the De Toquville discussion from MANY posters from other countries that some of our American legends (USA, that is) are questioned outside our borders.

    Anthony has a career ending knee operation while coaching at a summer camp in THE FIGURE 5 IN GOLD. His roommate in the hospital, Chris Robbins (Christopher Robin?), is apparently dying of anorexia. Chris recites a William Carlos Williams poem (The Great Figure) to Anthony, who is impressed that the poet lived in the Meadowlands. In B'SHERT, Michael's father Max makes plans to marry his Miss Right, Doris. Max talks to Michael of Love, Relativity and Time. Michael also remembers a walk in the woods with his father as a young boy. Michael counsels Dani following the break up with her boyfriend.

    In DINOSAURS, Juliette and Anthony attend a party in a suburban development built where a quarry once was that contained dinosaur footprints. Later she'll call Anthony a "great big dinosaur" after they flee the party which has gotten out of control. They have seemed to finally connect on some basic level.

    JULIETTE WAKES ANTHONY AT DAWN and gets him together with his old friend Jay Berkowitz. Through the Fall and Winter of '82-3, they have their affair. In the end, though, likening them to Lancelot and Guinevere, Juliette decides to leave "forever." She tells Anthony that she'll miss Tommy almost as much as she'll miss him and leaves for Los Angeles.

    But I'm a big William Carlos Williams fan. Let's talk about that poem a bit, shall we? How does it fit in here?


    Ella Gibbons
    Charlie, this story - The Figure 5 in Gold is unbelievably sad, a young boy dying of anorexia. That in itself is unusual for a boy, don't you think? I associate anorexia with young girls thinking they are fat (when usually they are not).

    And Anthony, for a fellow from such a dysfunctional family, is quite astute and remarkable. Has his mother's absence and father's lack of abstinence affected him at all? I can't recall any instance of it at the moment.

    The visual poem of WCW contributed much to the melancholy that Anthony felt at the end of the chapter. I admired this - He knew this distance, like all distances, preserved things. He sensed that somehow he was trying to preserve Chris.

    When Chris first tells him about William Carlos Williams, Anthony is immediately fascinated that this poet lived in and wrote about the area he knew. He is intrigued by the short length of the poem, by the visuals is conjures up. And who doesn't see this red fire truck just out of the corner of their eye, the gold encircled "five" on a bright red background…made even more alive, shiny and tactile from the rain. Streetlights and car headlights beaming off the gold, the noise of the engine, the siren shrieking, the wheels rumbling. This is chaos. But moving through this chaos is this magical golden number neatly framed in a golden circle. This is order amidst the anarchy. But more than order, it is a beacon of brightness - hope even - moving through the dark city. There is a core here, untouched by that which comes and goes. But "unheeded". Unheeded by those who don't look beyond the surface? Unheeded by those distracted by the cacophony of the impermanent?

    He has Chris recite the poem twice for him. One gets the distinct feeling that Chris' presence on the stage will be as swift, if not as dramatic, as the fire truck in Williams' poem - "He thought: You look like you're about to disappear." Leaving the hospital, Anthony returns for a final goodbye…"Chris smiled brightly for a moment"…a moment as fleeting and as bright as the fire truck passing through the city night.

    "I'll try to look for the figure 5 in gold" Anthony tells Chris. He always looks for it too, Chris tells Anthony. Immediately Anthony is in a car emerging from the darkness of the Lincoln Tunnel with the New York skyline ahead of him in all its panoramic wonder. "Drive slower", he asks his father. He stares out the window…. looking for Chris Robbins?… looking for a Firetruck? Just savoring the moment, perhaps

    "What he saw was the sunlight sparkling on the water, all of Manhattan under a perfect summer sky. It all looked quiet, in a way, as if the city were at rest. He knew this distance, like all distances, preserved things. He sensed that somehow he was trying to preserve Chris."
    What is Anthony telling Chris when he's saying he'll look for the figure 5 in gold? Maybe that he'll look for that which is true. For that which is permanent. For that which is real. He'll look for an anchor. A grounding. He'll look to make sense, always, of it all. In the face of chaos, it's best to keep one's bearings this way. To gain that distance which preserves. Certainly Anthony's young life is in chaos. His family ripped apart. But with an eye for what is dear, he can find the permanence that gives meaning. It is all too easy to be distracted by the chaos.

    And Ella: It is...well, it's almost unbelievable that this fellow Anthony could be so unaffected almost, as you say. Is this a flaw in the novel? In the sense that "how could this be" do you think?


    They say for every boy and girl
    There's just one love in this whole world,
    And I know I've found mine...

    The heavenly touch of your embrace
    Tells me no one can take your place
    Ever in my heart...

    Young love, first love
    Filled with deep emotion.
    Young love, our love,
    Filled with true devotion.

    I think. It's been a long time since I heard that song, but for some reason I can't seem to get it out of my head in the context of Anthony and Juliette.

    But as far as the first two lines go, we're talking about the ONE love of anybody's life and that's b'shert, right?

    That chapter, B'shert, I think was one of the best written chapters in the whole book. I loved it. I loved Max and his attitude. How well it captured the issue from both sides: Max's and his son's. "Love," says Max, "is the only thing there is."

    Beautiful thing, beautiful man, the party was perfect, and their getting tired was too. The son's concern over money was so true, Dad "one of you loses Social Security."..."So I lose nine-hundred eighty dollars a month is what is comes to. Is this enough that I'd give up the chance to marry my heart's desire?"

    Michael said, "Yes."

    Priceless, the entire chapter is priceless. Michael has even added up the possible loss in income over the years.

    You know, I have had more arguments over this one issue, the loss of the Social Security check, than any other issue I know of. All my friends who still teach confidently expect not only to receive their own Social Security check but their husband's, too. I don't think that's the way it works, is it?

    And Max and Doris need not have married? But Max wanted to do it right. I love it.

    And then Max had taken Michael out in the wood when Michael was a young boy and explained about clearings.

    "And this is it," his father said, "You look for clearings. This is what life is all about. And when they come you stay inside for as long as possible. You look for openings and clearings, in your life."

    He has just equated life's darker moments to woods and shadows, "Life will have woods and it will always have tenebrium... You will get lost unless you understand you can get lost, you see?"

    Now here I have a feeling that something important has been said but I have no idea what? What does this mean?

    I can undrstand trees being obstacles and darkness in a life and the clearing symbolizing all the things you would expect from which you...maybe a safe haven of dreams or hopes unencumbered by "trees," can venture out from time to time but I don't understand the lost remark?

    Do you all?

    Charlie, what a perfectly fabulous illustration, that's perfect!!!!!

    Going off to look up Milne, (and I still think Williams was the one with the "cake uneaten on the lawn" poem)!


    Just a quick thought here. I believe I read somewhere recently – but I’m not positive about this – that Christopher Robin (of Pooh fame) has an eating disorder – or was that Winnie hisself?? This would, of course, fit the name selection here….but I may be mixing things up. Can someone help me on this?

    Back this evening.


    Ella Gibbons
    I can't help you there, Charlie.

    Ginny, when I read those sentences you quoted above about getting lost and understanding you CAN GET LOST, but then you look for clearings, I thought of life itself. We do get lost, we know we can get lost, disasters happen that we didn't foresee or didn't want to foresee, but we searched until we found the clearings.

    We've seen others get lost, but for some reason we don't see it happening to us. The author is telling us that WE, TOO, CAN GET LOST, but there is a clearing. It's almost biblical in a sense.

    And, of course, I'm not explaining it well, just feeling it.

    It was a lovely chapter - and a little sad also. My MIL was in apartment-type dwelling for seniors for a few years until a stroke which necessitated a nursing home. She was well into her 80's when she moved there, but very healthy. On her 90th birthday we gave her a party just like Michael and his children did. We reserved a big room in the facility and put up flyers on bulletin boards inviting everyone and Doris (strange that my MIL had the same name as Max's love had) bought a new dress for the occasion and all the family assembled. She did enjoy that party with so many around her. All her old friends were either dead or in nursing homes, but her new friends were there.

    Am I correct that, according to the story, a person can have only one b'shertin a lifetime? I don't believe that - do you?

    I noted that neither Michael nor his Dad were fortunate in their first marriages. Very few, if any, of the characters in this book are happy or even contented.

    WCW's quote that Anthony copied is very true:

    What I believe to be the hidden core of my life will not easily be deciphered, even when I tell, as here, the outer circumstances.

    This I have never felt: "loneliness. Sometimes I feel so afraid I'm up all night," Michael said.

    I may never have felt it, but I'm afraid of feeling it.

    I loved the poem, Ginny, even though I don't believe it.

    Ginny, I agree that the chapter you spoke of (B'shert) was one of the finest in the book, to a great extent because of Max. And Max figures again in the last chapter - a fitting close for the novel. And Ella explains it very well, I think. I guess there are people who are in the meadow (lands) their whole lives. For the most part though, I do believe that life is a series of clearings, bright spots, moments - years if we're lucky - of peace and contentment. We should not be surprised though, that there are paths we sometimes take - sometimes must take - on which we can get lost. We need to know that. We need to remember that. It helps us through and guides us.

    Ella doesn't believe that "a person can have only one b'shert in a lifetime." Neither do I. And I wonder if it is healthy to believe it? It seems to me that believing this closes things off to us. Certainly if you're in a relationship that you feel is not the one and you believe this - that is pretty depressing. On the other hand, I suppose it gives hope to the young - and the eternally young that there is someone out there for us.

    I'll be traveling for a few days. Hopefully back on Friday. Take care.


    This post was emailed to me and Ginny asked me to put it here!

    Ella, how beautifully put about the clearings, that was wonderful.

    I think my problem, possibly, was in trying to read more into the phrase than might be there, because I always feel the potential of getting lost, more so than the potential of finding my way. I thought it was some kind of zen thing there and I wasn't quite getting it, and I'm not sure I do yet, but I must be well on my way, because, having been lost a good bit, I am over the first step you might say.

    Then you quoted, "loneliness. Sometimes I feel so afraid I'm up all night," Michael said.

    I think there is lonelines and then there is loneliness. I have also not experienced the loneliness which brings a fear, like Michael has, and I think it might be terrible to contemplate. Wonder why he would feel that way? He's in the prime of his life with children still at home, a busy job, what is it he seeks? What is Michael looking for, have we decided? What makes him afraid?

    Well he doesn't have to look too far for an example of how to live, does he? Max is still seizing the day, maybe Michael can fall back on that when he gets older, but I don't know which kind of loneliness he feels.

    "Am I correct that, according to the story, a person can have only one b'shertin a lifetime? I don't believe that - do you? "

    Ella and Charlie, no I don't believe this either. I actually heard a woman who was happily married once quote the song, "It's sad to belong to someone else when the right one comes along," remember that one?

    Hogwash. Then why did a person marry in the first place? I think some people are wonderfully suited to each other, the true B'shert, and some aren't. I think it really would be sad to be trapped in a marriage where the other person, instead of working on problems, decided that one simply wasn't one's intended one. Don't know too many marriages that don't start out thinking "this is the one." Maybe B'shert takes some work.

    "For the most part though, I do believe that life is a series of clearings, bright spots, moments - years if we're lucky - of peace and contentment"

    Yes, I agree, Charlie, "luck" is the word, too, and it's a good thing to be grateful we do take so much for granted.

    I feel sorry for Michael all of a sudden. Whatever it is he lacks, it's ruining his life. He can't seem to settle for one wife, and he's lonely but again he seems to lack...what IS it? He seems to lack what it takes to make a relationship work, fascinating character. I think the men in this piece, with the exception of Juliette, are the most conflicted and interesting.

    There's more to this book than appears on the surface. The way it's written makes you race thru the pages, just fly thru the pages almost breathlessly and invariably you miss something that was put there that is important. Michael may still be dreaming, too, may still be a romantic, too. They all seem to be looking for something, even Claudia, they all are seeking.

    But this sentence caught me up straight:

    "Then he decided, in one very quiet moment, that he needed to grow up."

    Grow up. That's what I've been shreiking at the adults here but not Anthony. What does "grow up" mean, anyway, and how does it pertain to Anthony, whom I thought was handling himself perhaps better than most of the characters in the story.

    Wonder what this means?

    Safe trip, Chas!!

    Ella Gibbons
    My book is due back at the Library and I have finished the last couple of chapters.

    Ginny, I think when Anthony said he needed to grow up, he realized he needed to make decisions, make grown up decisions and one of them included Juliette. Both he and Juliette knew they were wrong for each other but they were young and wanting to be in love. Juliette says it in the song she quoted: "But we decide which is right and which is an illusion."

    The love they felt for each other was an illusion. They loved certain traits the other had, i.e. Juliette said she loved the way Anthony held things - referring to his memories of happier days at the shore and Anthony, no doubt, loved her recklessness, her compassion which she showed at various times throughout the book. He recognized that. She took him to therapy and brought Jay back into his life. Good things.

    But in the end - as we used to sing:
    It was just one of those things
    just one of those wonderful things
    a trip to the moon on gossamer wings
    just one of those things.

    This was not an easy book to love, full of unhappy people, disjointed lives, destructive teenagers; perhaps this is the way it is for many people in the world and, if so, it's depressing. But the character of Anthony reminds us that there are young people that, despite their dysfunctional parents, believe life is good, are still romantic and are reaching for the stars as they should.

    Fitting, that as we take our final look at The Lost Legends of New Jersey (the name of the last Chapter, as well as the name of the book), Anthony takes a "final" look of understanding at his parents. They had taken dance lessons and excelled in them and with each other - but quickly got bored, his mother told Anthony. Anthony didn't think they looked bored. "We're good at faking," said Jess. Anthony knows there's something more between them than that which can be faked. He's sure of it. "Something real" he thinks. Can people lose that something "real" between themselves in this mixed up modern world? Lose what is there but becomes lost to them in the confusion of their lives - perhaps forever? Sure. It seems to be so. They've become "friends" and they're both settled into a reduced level of "happiness" without each other.

    Anthony, like some of us who have expressed their opinions here, is not at all sure about this b'shert business. "You just vault into things…and then you hope." Or work very, very hard….

    At the end, Anthony steps outside the borders of the book itself, so to speak.

    "There is no way I can tell you everything, though I'd like to. One of the problems with all stories is they have borders. Then you extrapolate, like in algebra. You use the things you know to guess at what is left outside the border."

    As readers, this is exactly what we do, isn't it? We take what we've been allowed to know by the author - by the storyteller - and then we "extrapolate." We cross the border - the boundaries of the book as we try to piece the rest of these lives that we have come to know together. If we care, that is. If we care about the characters. I know that some writers - some literary critics may not see this as a valid exercise. It is nice to have an author validate what he must know as readers that we sometimes do.

    Ah, but the storyteller has one last bit of a tale to tell. Tugs on our sleeve and grabs our attention again "Listen to me, okay?" Grandpa Max has taken Anthony out to visit the grave of his wife - and his other son, Daniel. There is a lot of loss in this book. But it's a part of life and it's what comes after the loss that is the comforting part. The continuation of life, the picking up of the pieces. The learning. The coping. The dawn of new days upon new days.

    "I looked at Max and understood that we all lose things. That loving anyone means having to face the pain of separation. That we can fall on a lost son's grave and then go out for pastrami on rye with mustard."
    Humans are remarkably resilient creatures.

    Thanks to everyone who joined in here - a small but intimate group. Thanks to the author for joining us and astounding us and surprising us. Success to you. I have only now noticed that one of Mr. Reiken's acknowledgements was to Leslie Pietrzyk, also an alumnus of sorts as an author participant. We hope to see and hear more from Frederick Reiken and Leslie Pietrzyk in the future. These are both authors who, it seems to me, have an urgent need to communicate something of who we are, and of where we are going. Perhaps that is why they both consented to join us in this forum - to take another step along that path of understanding with us. Thanks to you all.


    Further comments on this discussion may be made in the Archived edition.

    to the Books & Literature sections of SeniorNet Online!

    If this is your first visit, you will be pleased to know you have come to the right place, just click on this: Main Books & Literature Menu and look on down for many interesting discussions, ALL OF WHICH you are more than welcome in!

    If you like the idea of conversing with an author, you will want to look for Renato's Luck, which will begin on February 14th and will feature the author Jeff Shapiro from Tuscany, and his new wife Valeria, who will share with us some of her family's Italian recipes.

    Don't miss that one or any of our wonderful, current, and intelligent book discussions!