In his second novel, The Lost Legends of New Jersey, Frederick Reiken chronicles four years in the life of teenager Anthony Rubin. A Jewish hockey star from the New Jersey suburbs, Anthony navigates the uneven terrain of adolescence while his world bends around him: his physician father has an affair with a family friend; his mother escapes marital problems by fleeing to Florida; and Anthony begins a relationship with Juliette Dimiglio, the next-door-neighbor whose mother committed suicide in her garage.
Set in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the novel drops casual references to the era and setting throughout, such as Rush concerts at the Meadowlands or summers at the Jersey shore; such mentions help construct a palpable sense of place and time. Reiken peoples his narrative with the expected cast of characters (wealthy Jewish suburbanites, working class Italian-Americans) as well as a few surprises. Anthony's erstwhile friend Jay Berkowitz takes Juliette on an after-hours tour of the West Orange zoo. Their conversation stretches from the usual teenage banter to meditations on love and family, at times almost cryptic in their responses. But the scene rings with a sweet satisfaction as these two lonely, mismatched kids commune and connect for a few hours. Much of the novel concentrates on Anthony's careful negotiations with those around him (hockey coaches, older girlfriends, parents) and how these relationships shape his growth into a confident young man.
Reiken takes chances with his narrative style. Although the novel focuses on Anthony and is told mostly through his voice, multiple narrators crop up, alternating between first- and third-person. Anthony remains remarkably stoic for a teen whose personal life dashes from one crisis to another, perhaps a bit too stoic; sometimes he seems like a grown man instead of a high school student. When he speaks, it is often in a calm, reflective voice almost devoid of emotion. This wouldn't be reason for pause, except that Reiken takes great efforts to place Anthony in a milieu associated with roiling adolescent angst. But these qualms aside, Anthony emerges as a memorable character, one that ends up finding a center in the storm raging around him.
Michael Paulson teaches English at Penn State University.