I recently finished reading Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus, a book I’d read several times in the past, but not since I moved to New Jersey. Now that I live here, the book–which I’ve always loved–takes on a whole new meaning.
The narrator, a young man named Neil Klugman, lives in Newark, a working class community at the time the book was written in 1959. Neil embarks on a romance that summer with a wealthy college girl from Short Hills, Brenda Patimkin. The book is fraught with references to Essex County. Neil works at the public library on Washington Street in Newark, attends the Rutgers extension program in that city and has an aunt who lives in Livingston. Brenda’s brother, Ron, was a star basketball player at Millburn High School. Neil observes businessman coming off the train from Maplewood and South Orange.
There are also two references to Montclair, neither especially flattering. When Neil first meets Brenda, who tells him she goes to school in Boston, he says this: “For an instant Brenda reminded me of the pug-nosed little bastards from Montclair who come down to the library during vacations, and while I stamp out their books, they stand around tugging their elephantine scarves until they hang to their ankles, hinting all the while at ‘Boston’ and ‘New Haven’.”
Later in the book, while walking through the library, he describes passing past the periodical room, “where a few ancient ladies who’d been motored down from Upper Montclair now huddled in their chairs, pince-nezing over yellowed, fraying society pages in old copies of the Newark News.”
Philip Roth, of course, grew up in Newark, and has set many of his books in the area. In March, the city celebrated Roth’s 80th birthday, with an appearance by the legendary author and tours of landmarks central to his life and work.
Reading Goodbye, Columbus, I got to wondering what other books are set in Essex County. Readers, help me out. What other books are set primarily in this area? And what are your favorite books about New Jersey?