Book Review: Living on the Edge of the World

NJ is the edge of the world? More like center of Hell!

Time for another book review! Last time, I wrote about the bible of the Turnpike, Looking for America on the New Jersey Turnpike. For today, I’m reviewing Living on the Edge of the World, edited by Irina Reyn. This book is a collection of short stories all about life in New Jersey.

There are 19 stories total, including Reyn’s introduction, each by a different author who grew up in the state. Anyone from New Jersey will probably relate in one way or another to these stories. And anyone who isn’t from New Jersey can read this book to get an in-depth look of what our state is really like.

What’s great about the book is that each story can stand alone and still be a wonderful read. Whether the author loves or hates his or her native state, each story is equally passionate. Of course, people from New Jersey aren’t known for their subtlety.

Another cool thing about the book is how each story provides not just the name of the author, but also the town and exit number of where the story takes place. Though Reyn doesn’t point out whether the exit is on the Parkway or Turnpike, she doesn’t have to. Us New Jerseyans know instinctively.

Though each story is good, some stand out a little more than others. Here are just a few of my favorites. If these pique your interest, go read “Living on the Edge of the World” yourself.

From One Edge of the World to Another

by Irina Reyn, Exit 156

In this intro to the book, Reyn describes her impressions as a Moscow native living in Brooklyn who later moves with her parents to the New Jersey suburbs to chase the American dream. She describes the incredible adjustments she had to make, like getting used to the malls, diners, and guidos of North Jersey. My favorite part is how she describes the toxic scent that would be in the air each night. It turns out this city Brooklyn girl didn’t recognize the wonderful smell of a freshly killed skunk out in the woods.

Rose of the Jersey Shore

by Jonathan Ames, Exit 82

Ames shares the story of the events of one summer day at the Seaside boardwalk as he tries to get with a girl. He perfectly captures the essence of the shore, describing the scents on the boardwalk as a mix of “frying grease, old fish, and ocean breeze.” When the author gets the girl alone in his hotel room, he is surprised to see that her nipples are an inch and a half long. The rest of the story is pretty damn funny. Incidentally, I think I saw that girl with the funny nipples at a strip club in Atlantic City recently.

A Rumble and a Scream

by Caren Lissner, Exit 7A

Lissner’s story details her experience of working at Great Adventure one summer during college. Due to some unusual circumstances, she was homeless that summer and spent the nights sleeping in her car. Somehow, Lissner managed to make the seemingly dull life of a ticket booth operator at the theme park interesting. It’s pretty cool to read about the inner workings of the much fabled Great Adventure.

Suburban Legends

by Elizabeth Keenan, Exit 9

What kid growing up in New Jersey hasn’t tried to hunt down the Jersey Devil? In this story, Keenan discusses her high school best friend, with whom she would go on late-night, spooky adventures. The author describes how the two girls would keep testing the limits of their bravery and the rules. Though they never found the Jersey Devil, they did come face to face with some other demons.

Uncommon Criminal

by James Kaplan, Exit 145

Long before Tony Soprano exemplified what it was like to be a mafia don in suburban New Jersey, there was Longy Zwillman. Kaplan does a fantastic job of giving us Zwillman’s life story (from his childhood on the streets of Newark to ruling his suburban gangster kingdom to committing suicide) in a mere 14 pages. Though many of us probably never heard of Longy Zwillman, Kaplan brings this character back to life and explains his personal connection to the man.

All of the stories in Living on the Edge of the World are more than worthwhile; these are just five of the best. If I wanted to devote the time, I could have written an enticing blurb about each one. But, if you want to read about the Blueberry Queen of Hammonton, the challenges of an Indian/Guyanese woman living in Jersey City, or a devoted fan’s undying love for the New Jersey Nets, I highly recommend you read this book.

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