I have to take a break from the blood and guts every now and then. Oh, I'll never abandon horror, but the generic tropes sometimes get old. I've been reading this stuff for a long time.

It was always that way. Even in the 80's, when I was as passionate about all things horror as I've ever been, I would read John Irving, Paul Theroux, William Kotzwinkle, Robert Cormier. As well as occasional flights into science fiction, of course. It's good to broaden one's literary horizons.

I was craving something different lately, and while browsing in a thrift store the cover of a book caught my eye. It was Palisades Park, by Alan Brennert. The name rang a bell, but I couldn't immediately place it. A quick search informed me that Brennert had been a writer and producer on the Law and Order television show. I had never seen Law and Order, but I know it was successful. Alan Brennert has other TV credits, but most important to me is how he was a writer as well as story consultant on the 1980's Twlight Zone revival. He worked alongside Harlan Ellison on the show. Whether they emerged from the experience as lifelong friends or mortal enemies, I do not know. With Ellison it could go either way.

I was familiar with the famous song, Palisades Park, and I knew it was a famed New Jersey amusement park, but I didn't know a whole lot else. Alan Brennert's novel changed all of that.

Palisades Park, the novel, is a rich historical epic about a family whose lives are inexorably connected to the legendary park. Eddie Stopka visited Palisades Park as a boy, and never forgot it. After bumming around the country a bit, he gets a job there, and he eventually buys into the french fry concession. Eddie's daughter, Toni, is fascinated by the daredevil high diving performers there, and his son Jack is a dreamer who loves comics and imagination.

The story progresses from the Great Depression to the nineteen seventies, and the Stopka family as well as Palisades Park are deeply affected by natural disasters, social upheaval, wars, and internal struggles. Eddie's essential decency is the light that shines throughout the novel.

Palisades Park is a great novel that has everything a reader could want: a colorful setting, romance, drama, history, humor, tragedy. Palisades Park is depicted as both a place of dreams, magic, and miracles, and a tawdry tourist trap. The Stopkas live an idyllic life serving crisp, vinegar-laden fries to happy customers, but they are often overwhelmed by the heat, the grease, and the endless hustle to meet the demands of hungry customers. There's often a thin line between magic and mundanity.

Palisades Park came to life for me with this novel. The sights, the smells, the sounds, it was like I was experiencing it all.

It's been quite some time since I was so captivated by a novel. I read it in the morning before work, at lunch, and every other spare moment I could find. I finished it almost a week ago, but I haven't been able to pick up another book since then. My mind and heart are still in Palisades Park.



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