The Lost Legends of New Jersey
About the book:
From the critically acclaimed author of The Odd Sea, a poignant and magical coming-of-age story that “deftly explores the mysteries of love and loss” (Time).
It’s the early 1980s and the suburban streets of New Jersey are filled with Bruce Springsteen-era teenagers searching for answers. Anthony Rubin is a rising high school hockey star faced with a family that is falling apart. His father has had an affair with Anthony’s best friend’s mother and his own mother has abandoned the family for Florida. Confronted with an overwhelming sense of loss, Anthony focuses on the one thing he feels he can save-the tough-talking daughter of a reputed Mafioso, a Juliet to his Romeo. Merging the commonplace and the mythological, Frederick Reiken’s richly layered second novel presents unforgettable characters whose lives seem at once familiar and archetypal. Filled with joy as well as heartbreak, The Lost Legends of New Jersey is a rich, resonant tale of the extraordinary magic that can arise within ordinary lives.
About the author:
Q. What is the significance of the title? Can the chapters be considered “legends?” In what way, for instance, is the chapter entitled “Constellations” a legend? What about “Lost Meadows”? “Romeo and Juliette”? “B’shert”? “Juliette Wakes Anthony at Dawn”?
Q. What are some of the specific geographical details that Reiken incorporates into the book? What particular locales emerge most distinctly? What else helps to establish a sense of place? How are the characters connected to the geography and culture of northern New Jersey circa 1980?
Q. Both Michael and Jess Rubin might be said to be flawed characters, yet they are presented in a sympathetic light. How does Reiken’s characterization process strike this balance? What is the effect of the book’s use of multiple character perspectives or changing “point-of-view”?
Q. Is Vincent Dimiglio really a mobster? Is there any evidence that Isabella Dimiglio ever was a prostitute? How does the book present the idea of mythmaking in regard to these and other characters?
Q. In the chapters “Anthony Sells Juliette a Raffle” and “Wolves,” Juliette contemplates her feelings toward her mother. What are they? What about her father? Aunt Camille? Why do you think she continues to date Tommy Lange?
Q. In “Lost Mothers,” Anthony wonders whether finding his mother “dead and bloody,” as Juliette has, might be easier than having a mother who is still alive but absent in his life. How does Anthony’s predicament compare with Juliette’s? How do their responses to having a “lost mother” compare or contrast?
Q. Is there any way to account for Jess’s erratic behavior and obvious problems with relationships? Does she have an identifiable mental health disorder? In “A Brief History of Sadness,” why does she begin and end an affair with her scuba diving instructor?
Q. What is Joeyland? Is it a place specific only to Claudia? Why does Claudia decide to leave Joey Malinowski? How do her actions toward Joey compare to Leah Kleinfeld’s actions toward her own high-school sweetheart, Paul Haney?
Q. What does the inclusion of Leah Kleinfeld and Max Rubin, two secondary characters, accomplish for the novel? How do their respective stories treat the notion of love? How do their understandings of love compare to those of Jess and Michael?
Q. In Yiddish the word b’shert literally means “meant to be” and is often used idiomatically to refer to one’s destined romantic partner. How does the chapter “B’shert” play on this idea of the possibility of a destined “true love”?
Q. The novel depicts characters from three generations. How does each character’s age influence his or her opinion on marriage and the appropriateness of a particular mate? Do you consider Max’s views to be atypical of his generation?
Q. The novel makes allusions to the legendary doomed romance of Guinevere and Lancelot in the chapters “Angels Like Audrey Hepburn” and “Juliette Wakes Anthony at Dawn.” How does this reference pertain to Anthony and Juliette? What about Jess and Eddie Fischer? Are there allusions to the Arthurian legend in other chapters?
Q. Is there a logic to the sequence in which the chapters narrated in first person are arranged within the more prevalent third-person chapters? What is the effect of the first-person chapters on the overall shape and structure of the book?
Q. Are there any distinct moments when something shifts or transforms during Anthony’s visit with his mother in Florida? In “Sanibel,” why does he focus on her gold jacket? What is the significance of the tunnel they swim through in “Atlantis”?
Q. In the last chapter, Anthony notes that “One of the problems with all stories is they have borders.” What does he mean by this? Which particular story lines feel like they continue beyond the borders of The Lost Legends of New Jersey? How does the book achieve its sense of closure?