Palisades Park is a novel that takes place in 1930s northern New Jersey. © Photo courtesy of St. Martin’s Press
Growing up in Fort Lee, N.J., I have always heard tales about my family’s arrival to the neighborhood from Italy and the wonder with which my father and others greeted the Palisades Amusement Park in the 1960s. While my immigrant family was settling into the new world and working like “chooches” as the Italian Americans would say, they managed to at least entertain themselves a few times at the famed park, replete with its roller coasters and Ferris wheel.
That’s why when I read about Palisades Park (St. Martin’s Press, 2013), a novel that tells the story of a fictional family’s triumphs and hardships amid their work at the Palisades Amusement Park, by Alan Brennert, bestselling author of Moloka’i and child of Edgewater, N.J., I jumped at the chance to pre-purchase it. At 5 a.m. this morning, curled up in my bed, I happily opened my Kindle Fire HD to find my copy of the book.
Revolving around Eddie and Adele and their children, a daughter Toni, who wants to be a high diver despite her mother’s objections, and son Jack, the novel takes place in northern New Jersey, where the family works at the Palisades Amusement Park. Spanning the 1930s to the park’s closure in 1971, the book also takes readers through major moments in history as someone in N.J. at the time might have witnessed them.
It’s a real page turner, and anyone with the slightest connection to northern New Jersey will appreciate all the detail about the area’s history. I only got as far as the fire that famously struck the park and how that is beginning to affect the family before my son and my work forced me out of bed, not to mention out of the pages of the novel. Still, I already experienced the horrors of someone trying to jump off my George Washington Bridge, the symbol of my hometown, and references to Fort Lee’s original name, Coytesville, and its past as the first Hollywood. I can hardly wait for the story of this family to unfold and to hear about the changing landscape in the 1950s and 1960s when my relatives were planting our roots in this intriguing place that is so often overshadowed by its more famous neighbor, New York City.
Of course, I recommend you take this book with you on your travels or for reading at the beach this summer. It will be a challenge for me because I’m already swept away by the story, but I”m going to try and pace myself so I have it to read as I travel to the Motherland, Italy, later in the spring.
The writing is so powerful – I can definitely see why Brennert, who won an Emmy award in 1991 as a writer/producer of L.A. Law, is a favorite with book clubs – that you will feel as though you are apart of the story and moving right into Fort Lee, Cliffside Park, and all the other nearby towns related to the Palisades Amusement Park. If you really want to make the words leap off the page, you can head to the Fort Lee Museum tonight at 7 p.m. ET, where Brennert will be celebrating the book’s release by signing copies of it, and check out the museum’s exhibit on the park.
Di Meglio is the author of Fun with the Family (Globe Pequot Press Travel, 2012) and the Guide to Newlyweds for About.com.