Casey Larken’s father is dead and his half brother Davey inherited dad Joseph’s multimillion dollar fortune. Davey was the only “legitimate” child. Joseph was a pretty awful guy, as we learn when the book opens with his sparsely attended funeral. Casey- well, he got a house and $50,000 and the house turns out to be occupied by his father’s former maid, a Black woman who loved the man – God bless her – and her daughter, Gabrielle, yet another child of Joseph. Gabrielle got nothing, including the college tuition Joseph promised to pay. Davey, now independently wealthy, lives in a town near Asbury Park. His successes in life peaked in high school. Gabrielle’s house, now willed to Casey, is on the wrong side of town and she works part time for a weird, racist woman who owns Madame K’s, a women’s boutique. Casey’s childhood home is next door to his best friend Meredith;s house, but his mother took off from Asbury Park long ago leaving him to live with his abusive father and unkind (later divorced) stepmother. NO love lost between these folks and Casey. Thrown into the periphery is a cast of characters who in various ways attract and deflect the attention of the siblings and the community in interconnecting ways. Ultimately, the story touches on organized religion (mostly Syrian Jews in the area and their orthodox practices), general belief or disbelief in God, drug addiction, the dangers of inherited money, idleness, narcissism, either the inability to tell right from wrong or making intentional choices to do something wrong, parent/child relationships in many forms and –maybe– a study in right and wrong, heaven and hell, God and no God overarching everything.
This is a character driven novel and, while it is true, as some reviewers say, that the characters are generally unlikeable, I find I have compassion for even the worst of them and want to understand what makes them tick. Casey is the only one who speaks in first person, but Turtel uses third person narrative for much of the novel. On the whole, this is more a book about being in your twenties in some of the worst possible ways that this transitional period of life can unfold. People get hurt for reasons that don’t make sense, have secrets and back stories/experiences we learn about but that don’t necessarily explain why they do what they do, They are often just facts we learn that do not really tell us “why.” Certain moments that describe or involve violence mirror one another, often involving bystanders who don’t get involved. And in most cases, they should have. People screw up relationships, half find their way or seem on track to be okay, or wildly fail at life. Little gets resolved in this book, yet I found it engrossing. I was not dissatisfied by the end of the novel as to what happened to each person.
I like Turtel’s style with shifting storylines that come together and stand alone throughout. I was interested in the motives and actions of every character, even the bartender.. The ending involves a shift that was unpredictable, yet restores faith in the dignity and depth one of the most likable characters and in the future of at least one sibling who is challenged to do better and to grow up already and get beyond being Joseph’s child. Because this is a book about Joseph’s children and they are all damaged, yet have the opportunity to overcome him, each for different reasons.. I found this a profound book. It’s going to be one I chew over. I went to Asbury Park for a day in the late 1970s and played games at the Palace and looked around, with my boyfriend. This was just before I was aware of Bruce Springsteen who was breaking into the national music scene. We went because my boyfriend grew up near there and thought it was a cool place. We went because it was a beach town and we lived not too far away and we wanted to see the ocean.. And I never forgot that day or that place. It touched me even though it was definitely not in its heyday. It was kind of a ghost place, that had been grander and still survived. Seeing the town as I saw it that spring day out of season in, say 1977 made this novel ring true: . It’s definitely a story that rings true, in all its messiness.