A tour through the Garden State is no bed of roses in this bleak collection of stories and poems.
“New Jersey is a place of secrets, complex, rotten with tangled branching vines and rivers of ancient, heaving blood,” notes a hit man in Barry N. Malzberg and Bill Pronzini’s “Meadowlands Spike.” It’s also a festival of urban blight, lovingly documented by S.A. Solomon in “Live for Today,” Lou Manfredo in “Soul Anatomy,” S.J. Rozan in “New Day Newark” and Hirsh Sawhney in “A Bag for Nicholas.” Rural Jersey can be pretty spooky, as a young orphan discovers in Bradford Morrow’s “The Enigma of Grover’s Mill.” And it has its own special drug culture, as a Cuban immigrant finds out in Robert Arellano’s “Kettle Run.” Gentrification is no defense against the state’s essential corruption, as an artist entranced by a trophy wife from the upscale part of Hoboken soon learns in Jonathan Santlofer’s “Lola.” And the shore is filled with bad memories and even worse people in Richard Burgin’s “Atlantis.” Even the fresh air of the Kittatinny Mountains in the state’s northwest corner is tainted by memories of his first family for Reno, who’s trying to make a new start with a young wife and her children in (editor) Oates’ “Run Kiss Daddy.” Only cyberspace offers any relief; in Jonathan Safran Foer’s lively “Too Near Real,” a disgraced professor tours the world on Google Maps. Anything to get out of New Jersey.
With barely a hint of redemption to light the darkness, this volume exacts an even higher toll than the turnpike.