The Novelist of the Garden State: In Praise of Eric Dezenhall

If New Jersey has its rock poet laureate, a singer-songwriter who is the voice of a blue collar Everyman, a stoic patriarch whose wounds are visible along the creases of his palms and the muscles of his forearms, while he represses a deeper hurt through a combination of drink and self-restraint; a portrait of solitude facing an empty boardwalk and breaking waves as he cups his hand against the wind to keep his cigarette aflame, while he exhales (through his nose) narrow slits of smoke into the ocean mist — if the lyricist of that anonymous character’s life is Bruce Springsteen, then the chronicler of the characters who people the boardwalk — a motley crew of gangsters, gamblers, counselors and councilmen — is none other than Eric Dezenhall.

In a series of novels that features emissaries from a bygone era, men who wear their nicknames with the same panache by which they flash their pinky rings, bespoke figures (in sharkskin and sunglasses) whose accents befit their presence in this romanticized city by the Atlantic, in an otherwise homogenous country of food courts, parking garages and rivers of asphalt; a nation overflowing with intelligence from the Ivy League, as it continues to endure a drought of wisdom of major league proportions.

Leave it to Dezenhall, who is a product of both worlds, a summertime son of the Jersey Shore and a graduate of Dartmouth College — leave it to this symbol of dualism to venerate the citizens of the boardwalk.

Think of Dezenhall as the Springsteen of New Jersey fiction.

He knows the difference between sentiment and schmaltz, the distinction between complexity and caricature.

He sees the ghosts of great men in that haze of neon and that cranberry-colored queue of brake lights from sedans expelling clouds of automotive exhaust.

He writes about the greatness of our most densely populated state.

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