Outlandish, implausibly captivating explorations of New Jersey's untamed and godawful Meadowlands from freelance journalist Sullivan. If there's an environmental equivalent of the Inferno's sub-basement, it is the Meadowlands, the skanky place with the pretty name. Pestilence, poison, murder, mayhem--the Meadowlands are home to them all, in abundance. Come a free day, Sullivan enjoys nosing about, ``like a bad habit,'' in the toxic farrago of swamp, bog, and saltwater marsh, encountering things you would rather not know about. Bring on the Superfund cleanup sites and state remediation areas; the smoldering hills of garbage, laced with mercury and chromium, leaching their brown juices into the waterways; the obscene swarms of mosquitoes hatching in water the color of antifreeze; serve them forth, Sullivan wants a look-see. But the story isn't all vile, for there is a history here to consider, of real meadows that once supported arum and saxiflage and cedar forests, native populations and European settlers who didn't rape the terrain, and there is the host of characters smitten by the Meadowlands, with strange and curious things to tell. And Sullivan has an appealing taste for the absurd and ridiculous, the kind of material that gives places warp and weft: He floats his canoe over the submerged remains of a radio station ``thought to be the first to ever broadcast the voice of Frank Sinatra,'' finds the world's largest collection of foreign translations of Gone with the Wind at the Kearny Public Library, and casually observes ``the morning that Dave and I set out to dig for Jimmy Hoffa was beautiful and sunny.'' The 20th century has done its worst by the Meadowlands, but as Sullivan superbly demonstrates, there is life in the old landscape yet, a friskiness that shakes off into the clayey muck the hellspawn of progress.