I picked up Stan Parish’s novel Down the Shore while strolling through a Barnes and Noble. Knowing nothing about it, I read the back cover and felt a bit worried. This story focusing on a teenager from the Jersey Shore who leaves home for a European boarding school. See, I am putting the finishing touches on a novel about a teenager from the Jersey shore who leaves home for a European boarding school. Fortunately for my manuscript’s chances at seeing the light of publication, this is where the storyline similarities end. Down the Shore (a term, in my experience, most people from Jersey don’t actually use) is filled with cocaine, money, tuxedos and black sedans. We’ve got finance, wealthy parents, guided duck hunts, guns and white collar criminal fathers.
My novel has is filled with punk rock, fistfights, conservative Christianity and the protagonist’s hardcore resistance to it.
The protagonist and narrator of Down the Shore, Tom, is a high school senior whose college plans just fell through. A few months before his narrative begins, Tom is busted and charged with selling pot. Harvard revokes his admission. He’s on probation, and since he can’t deal anymore, he’s largely on his own. He has never met his father. His mother is a loving and endearing character, but she’s very busy as operator of her own catering business. Tom helps his mother out, serving dinners and drinks to local 1%ers.
Tom jumps on the chance to attend St. Andrews boarding school in Scotland and start over. At least that’s what he hopes will happen. His friend Clare complicates things a bit. Clare’s father, a big-rolling investor, is on the lam after some pretty serious white collar crime. He’s ripped off a whole lot of people (some of whom may be dangerous), and Clare wants to go were nobody knows his name. So he applies to the same boarding school, St. Andrews, at the Jersey boys head off to Scotland together.
In Scotland, there is more money, more cocaine, much more beer. But the past ghosts find their way across the Atlantic. And in an expensive boarding school (filled with rich kids, even a prince), it isn’t long before Clare catches hell for the sins of his father.
I’m a Jersey born and bred surfer, and there are parts in this book where Parish doles out golden nuggets of pure nostalgia and Jersey goodness. I love the bantering of locals when Tom goes to a party on an oceanfront house in Spring Lake, and later when he chats up the owner of a local seafood restaurant about the surf conditions. Tom cruises around Long Beach Island in December, remarking on the abandoned, cold, wave-swept atmosphere that I love so well. If you grew up in New Jersey or spent your summers “down the shore” (you friggin’ Benny), you’ll find a lot to like in this pages.
This is a beach read, a book to plow through, a novel filled with fast-paced dialogue and checkered passages of action and reflection.
As is common with young first-person narrators, Tom sounds a bit older and perhaps a bit too worldly. Sure his mother runs a catering business, and he helps out, but does Tom really know the difference between Sancerre and Puligny-Montrachet?
My other issue with Tom is his seeming lack of drive and passion about the future. No first-year college student truly knows what they want out of life, but Tom doesn’t seem to want much of anything. He is planning to study economics with the hopes of becoming a hedge fund manager, perhaps the perfect gig for an apathetic kid. He hooks up with women, but he never initiates the encounters, and he doesn’t really seem to care before, during or after. He’s also dishonest and cowardly. So it’s not easy to root for him to succeed. I get irritated reading about rich kids running to and fro with no concern for others, no introspection, no realization of their privileged status. Tom’s Jersey friends, some scrappy dudes who come visit him in Scotland, are a lot more likeable and relatable.
The author is a former GQ editor who attended Lawrenceville, a wealthy Jersey private school, and St. Andrews, so Tom is more like an alter-ego than a fictional narrator. Perhaps the narrator stuck too close to the facts to the detriment of the fiction. Still, I think this novel is a solid effort, and it’s a good choice if you’re headed “down the shore” any time soon.