Living on the Edge of the World: New Jersey Writers Take on the Garden State
Infused with identity politics and a love and loyalty that become proprietary to New Jersey natives, Irina Reyn’s edited collection Living on the Edge of the World offers readers a fractured and contemplative tour of the state. The concept for the book is superb—that locals know their relationship with this often unpopular state better than anyone—and Reyn follows through on her promise of a variety of perspectives that all cling to similar iconic references. There is a universal melancholy throughout these tales, but don’t feel sorry for these who hail from New Jersey; they wear their troubled and complicated relationships with their roots very well.
The unfailing references to the “Garden State” jokes we may have all heard (particularly from Gracie Hart, the haphazard FBI agent in Miss Congeniality, who notes that “Oil and Petrochemical Refinery State” won’t fit on a license plate) come together in this volume to remind outsiders that New Jersey is complex, and, lest we forget, Reyn’s writers deliver a multitude of memories, identities and histories as evidence.
From tales of the Jersey shore and youthful bliss, to family histories playing out in one large farm, to lawsuits and millions of dollars, this collection of essays offers readers not only a better understanding of the offerings of one of our least regarded states, but also deeper insights relevant to us all.
Grodstein’s “Notes on Camden” shines as an adventure through an aquarium and a disregarded crime capital all at once and Lissner’s retelling of a teen’s summer of poverty and ingratiating work at Great Adventure amusement park reminds us all of being an underdog from an underdog place. Each author places him or herself in relationship with the state while simultaneously placing themselves in a unique symbiosis with the strange combination of tourism, farming, suburbia and industrial production New Jersey offers. Some essays reflect on a life many years removed and admit it continues to haunt and intrigue them, while many of the authors hail from local colleges and universities and their entrance into such hallowed halls is cause for contemplating their dual identities within the single state.
This collection serves as a lesson in identity construction, and - whether you hail from Jersey or not - the tales of life, love and loyalty can touch us all.