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MarginMan

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Living on the Edge of the World: New Jersey Writers Take On the Garden State

Living on the Edge of the World: New Jersey Writers Take On the Garden State - Irina Reyn A collection of 18 short stories written by authors who lived or live in New Jersey. They're more like memoir entries than fictional accounts; snippets of memories of their experiences in the Garden State.

It's a good book for reading over a course of several days, with the conveniently lengthed stories and variety of voices. The collection succeeds in bringing out the complexities of the state and its residents. The book delves beyond the stereotypes, while sometimes acknowledging the factual roots of the stereotypes. One thing that struck me is the lack of strong endings. Is this because most of the writers are used to writing fiction? Or is it because they're reflecting on lives that are still being lived? There are several stories about prejudice, which highlights the state's ethnic diversity in a negative way. The teen years is another popular theme, with its varying levels of drama and dysfunction. New York City is oft-mentioned, as expected. But I was surprised by the lack of attention given to Philadelphia. I once took a wrong turn in downtown Philly and found myself on a one-way road into New Jersey. But I digress.

Kathleen DeMarco's "Family Farm" is one of the weaker stories, yet probably one of the more informative ones. Lauren Grodstein's "Notes On Camden" is a treasure trove of Jersey trivia, yet it's forgettable. James Kaplan's "Uncommon Criminal" is one of the stronger pieces, though its Mafia theme seems contradictory to the purpose of the book. "Taking the Nets", by David Roth, is another good one.

The weaker stories here are 3 or 3 1/2, the stronger ones are 4 or 4 1/2. So the collection as a whole gets a 3 1/2 or a 4, probably leaning slightly toward 3 1/2. It did change my thinking of New Jersey, so for that alone it was worth it.