Greet­ings From Asbury Park

  • Review
By – September 28, 2022

Daniel Turtel’s debut nov­el, Greet­ings From Asbury Park, begins with the death of a father, Joseph Larkin. His three chil­dren — Casey, David, and Gabrielle — all had dif­fer­ent moms and dif­fer­ent rela­tion­ships with Joseph, none of which were pos­i­tive. Joseph Larkin was dis­tant, unkind, and spite­ful, and his poor or absent par­ent­ing looms over the nov­el, as the chil­dren try to make sense of his death and their evolv­ing rela­tion­ships with one anoth­er and the world.

Tur­tel does a fan­tas­tic job of depict­ing a nuanced and ful­ly real­ized Jer­sey Shore that doesn’t lean into the free­wheel­ing rau­cous­ness (á la The Jer­sey Shore) typ­i­cal­ly asso­ci­at­ed with it. Turtel’s Jer­sey Shore, which stretch­es as far south as Bel­mar and as far north as Long Branch, doesn’t hide from the class and racial divides that cut through it: from the rich­er and whiter neigh­bor­hoods in Ocean Grove and Allen­hurst, to an Asbury Park that, a few blocks off the board­walk, is poor­er and home to more peo­ple of col­or. These divi­sions are invit­ed into the novel’s cen­ter, spark­ing ten­sion and inter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tions between characters.

Greet­ings From Asbury Park also mas­ter­ful­ly address­es the lim­its that tra­di­tion­al mas­cu­line expec­ta­tions can place on men, and how these lim­its neg­a­tive­ly affect them and those around them. David, the son with whom Joseph spent the most time, expe­ri­ences the great­est lim­i­ta­tions, as he’d most absorbed his father’s lessons on mas­culin­i­ty (i.e., men shouldn’t be friends with women, valu­ing com­pe­ti­tion over all else, etc.). To hide from his grief and his aim­less posi­tion in life — he inher­it­ed most of Joseph’s mon­ey, but has no job prospects or pas­sions — he drinks and abus­es drugs, gets into fist fights, and attempts to have as much casu­al sex as he can. These rush­es tem­porar­i­ly leave him con­tent, but they start to alien­ate him from his half-sib­lings and him­self. Casey, too, has his own ver­sion of eva­sion: he hides from his feel­ings by with­draw­ing into him­self and away from emo­tion­al conversations.

Although the nov­el is only 250 pages long, it man­ages to cycle through over half a dozen per­spec­tives. This nar­ra­tive approach offers a more round­ed view of the story’s cen­tral char­ac­ters, but at times it seems to dilute an already short nov­el; some chap­ters feel like lulls, in that they mine the actions and back­sto­ries of char­ac­ters whom the broad­er nar­ra­tive doesn’t seem as inter­est­ed in.

And then there’s the prose, which is brood­ing and poet­ic and per­fect­ly dis­tant. It sets a bleak tone from begin­ning to end. Yet it can some­times jump a few reg­is­ters out­side a character’s range, giv­ing the impres­sion that the author’s voice is over­shad­ow­ing their own. These pas­sages, though, are some of the book’s most beau­ti­ful and insight­ful — so per­haps the intru­sions are worth it.

Ben­jamin Selesnick lives and writes in New Jer­sey. His writ­ing has appeared in decomP, Lunch Tick­et, San­ta Fe Writ­ers’ Project Quar­ter­ly, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. He holds an MFA in fic­tion from Rutgers-Newark.

Discussion Questions