A literate, thoughtful saga covering half a century in the life of a family whose world centers on a New Jersey amusement park.
As Brennert (Molokai, 2003, etc.) opens his tale, with its plentiful shaggy-dog moments, we find something approaching Eddie Stopka’s idea of paradise: a swimming pool “packed with hundreds of swimmers, the beach overrun by sunbathers and toddlers wielding toy shovels.” A few pages and years later, and Eddie’s world has been transformed: The Great Depression has wiped happiness from the land, and he’s taken to riding the rails—though, careful as ever, isn’t actually as broke as his fellow hobos. Eddie is nothing if not goal-oriented, and he makes his way back to the shore and talks his way onto the crew, promising that he’s “torn down Ferris wheels and put 'em back up again.” One thing leads to another, and in time, Eddie’s a dad—though therein lies a story that’s not shaggy in the least. As the years roll by, Eddie and his offspring face a changing world in which—gasp—African-Americans expect to enter the park and—gasp—Richard Nixon takes national office. For all its exotic setting, Brennert’s tale is a universal one, pointing to the travails of family life. But there are differences between the lives of his characters and ours: As one stunt diver says, smiling, of a particularly stunning feat, “Ah, that’s nothing. Wait’ll you see me do it when I’m on fire.”
A pleasure to read, especially for those who collect giant pineapples, roller coasters and other roadside attractions.