Friday, January 17, 2014

Palisades Park by Alan Brennert

If you lived in New Jersey anytime between 1898 and 1971, you knew Palisades Park. I did. Alan Brennert did. He grew up living within a mile of Palisades Amusement Park. He wrote the book as "a love letter to a cherished part of my childhood."

Palisades Park is full of the history of the amusement park - the acts that performed there, the rides, the concessions, the famous swimming pool, the fires that destroyed portions of the park, those who worked there, and the owners. 

Palisades Park is also a very personal fictional story of a family connected to the park, through work and through their dreams. It begins in 1921, when Eddie, as a child, visits the park with his family. Later, as a young man, he gets a job at the park and then meets Adele, the young woman who will become his wife. Together, they invest in a french fry concession.  (There are mouth watering descriptions of the fries and details of how they are prepared and the equipment used.  Further, if you like cotton candy, you will be tempted by those descriptions as well.) Eddie and Adele's two children, Jack and Toni, are the second generation to work at the park.

The women in the family dream of being performers. Toni pursues her dream to be a high diver, studying with one of the few women to do these difficult and dangerous stunts, and performing at carnivals throughout the United States, before returning to Palisades Park to become a featured act. Eddie and Jack each have to deal with war. Jack serves in Korea. Brennert's two previous novels were set in Hawaii, which is where Eddie spends time after Pearl Harbor. Hawaiian scenery, culture, and food are another focus of this novel.

Palisades Park is a wonderful historical story, full of truths of time and place and full of truths of people and their relationships. Reading it took me back to the time and place and memories of Bergen County and of the Palisades. If you don't know this park, the book should take you to  memories of another that you do know.

If you want further background on this particular amusement park, here is the link to Palisades Amusement Park Historical Society:

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