Please join us throughoutJanuary for our Fiction Author/Event and discussion
The Lost Legends of New Jersey has been reviewed in
Final Thoughts - Final Chapter: The Lost Legends of New Jersey (Pages 302-312)
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.
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 ?
"When she looks up her eyes seem frozen, like she's lost."
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?
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.
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 rightthe 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."
You and your baby on a Saturday night
Nothing matters in this whole wide world
When you're in love with a Jersey girl
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.
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?
"...when Mom became a cheerleader, her parents threatened to rip their clothes, cover their mirrors, and act like she was dead."
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…
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."
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.
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?
"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,"
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.
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?
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
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?
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.
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."
-- 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.
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
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?
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.
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?
"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".
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.
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.
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).
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.
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 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."
Back this evening.
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.
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.
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."
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.