If you grew up spending your summers at a shore community, Mr. Boardwalk will speak to your memories. Louis Greenstein perfectly captures the scenes, smells, sounds, and many nuances of summer days filled with ocean, beach, and sky.
Jason Benson narrates his own coming of age story that transpires over his formative summers spent on the Atlantic City Boardwalk. Jason brings his wife and teenage daughter to Atlantic City twenty years after he hastily abandoned his summer paradise. He needs to explain his past life and the hidden secrets he has kept from them.
Jason grew up as the pretzel baker’s son. The famous, “See Them Twisted-See Them Baked!” sign hung over the store for decades.
Jason learned juggling basics from a Gypsy friend, practiced diligently, juggled day and night, and became a popular fast-talking well-known attraction. The Boardwalk became his domain.
This was the Atlantic City before gambling casinos changed the culture forever. It was the time taffy and fudge stores, penny arcades, sideshows, fortunetellers, movies at the Pier, Mr. Peanut, and Miss America parades delighted vacationing families. Atlantic City was Jason’s salvation and utopia. It was a land of adventure, happiness, and security.
These positive experiences stand in stark contrast to his unhappy bleak winter life in a Philadelphia suburb. He is an angry, aloof, and isolated student. His only friend is a drug addicted boy from a dysfunctional home. Jason is so driven to recreate his idealized summer life that he often takes the bus to downtown Philly to juggle or to Atlantic City on winter weekends.
There are intriguing scenes with the patient rabbi he studies with for his bar mitzvah lessons. They discuss the idea of scapegoating and that theme reappears as an important thread throughout the book.
Jason does go on to finally experience the high school social scene when an interested teacher urges him to join the Drama Club. She sees his shortcomings, and encourages him to learn to interact and listen to others on stage as well as in real life relationships. Jason’s egocentric and pressuring personality make open and honest encounters difficult. This inability to interact also mirrors itself in Jason’s self-acknowledged resistance to learn to pass and catch with a partner in juggling.
The storylines of family relationships, young love, early death, abandonment, a mysteriously disappearing derby hat, and the drug culture are all absorbingly woven into the narrative. Goldstein traces Jason’s childhood and adult life through this soul searching, touching, and entertaining story. The reader must determine if Jason can ever be capable of learning to pass and catch.
Renita Last is a member of the Nassau Region of Hadassah’s Executive Board. She has coordinated the Film Forum Series for the Region and served as Programming and Health Coordinators and as a member of the Advocacy Committee.
She has volunteered as a docent at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County teaching the all- important lessons of the Holocaust and tolerance. A retired teacher of the Gifted and Talented, she loves participating in book clubs and writing projects.