Props to New Jersey

July 12, 2010

Today my editor at New Door Books informed me that the first advance order for my new novel, The Shame of What We Are, has been received—from a person in New Jersey.

The buyer’s address is appropriate because, after a short Prologue, the book begins in Camden in 1951, where the nerdy five-year-old protagonist, Art Dennison, sets out on his tricycle to discover the world. Already trying to escape his family, he’s going to spend his life pedaling from one disaster to another, though he doesn’t know that yet.

My own memories of New Jersey are somewhat ambivalent. For instance:

  • As a young editor working in Manhattan, I took the bus home to our apartment in Jersey. One time, absorbed in reverie, or perhaps in revenge fantasies about my boss, I missed my stop and didn’t get out until the next town over. I had no idea where I was: some other town tucked between cloverleaf intersections.
  • My son was born while we lived in Jersey. Leaving wife and son in the hospital, I drove home to get some sleep, and next morning found the car and the roads so iced in I couldn’t get anywhere–an immediate comeuppance for someone determined not to be as “absent” as his own father had been. In retrospect, the ensuing phone conversation must have been funny: the young husband claiming he’d tried his mightiest to be with his wife and child, but the roads were just impassable; the young wife sounding patient but perhaps wondering if this was a sign of things to come; the baby blissfully indifferent.
  • Young liberal arts majors, we knew nothing about home maintenance and repair. Thus, when the ceiling of our apartment dripped a bit after a rain, we thought little of it. The next day, half the ceiling fell on us. I think this was after the baby came home. He probably realized right away that his parents’ understanding of the world left much to be desired.

Since settling in Philadelphia, I’ve developed a great respect for the state on the other side of the Delaware River. It is, at the very least, a buffer between us and the Mets. And now, I discover, the state likes my book. Thank you, New Jersey!!

(For those who don’t get the soup-can image: Camden has long been the home of Campbell’s, and in the memory of some old-time residents, large swaths of the city used to smell faintly of tomato soup.)

One Response to “Props to New Jersey”

  1. Funny, I was at a Phillies game last week. The man sitting in front of me turned around and asked me whether I was from Philly or Jersey. I told him Iw as from Philly. He asked me, “Why do Pennsylvania drivers always drive slowly and in the left-hand lane as soon as they cross the bridge.”

    I answered, “Because they’re looking for liquor stores.” The guy sitting with him thought that was so funny, he offered to buy me a beer every 15 minutes or so. I don’t drink (NJ and PA notwithstanding, I’m generally in a state of sobriety).

    But it’s good to know that New Jersey likes The Shame of What We Are. I will try not to read anything into that. I like NJ! And you are correct: It keeps us a proper distance from the Mets.


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