Mr. Boardwalk, Atlantic City

Mr BoardwalkMr. Boardwalk by Louis Greenstein

Mr. Boardwalk is not a mobster. Nor is he an unemployed casino worker. Mr. Boardwalk is a kid growing up spending his summers on the Atlantic City boardwalk in the 60’s, a time when it was neither a haven for bootleggers, nor for gamblers.

Jason Benson lives in the Philly area but heads to the Jersey shore with his family every year when school gets out. There he becomes the self-titled Jason the Magnificent, perfecting a juggling act in front of the boardwalk pretzel shop his father started after dropping out of the corporate world.

Summer at the boardwalk was also a big part of growing up for me and I’m probably about the same age as the factitious Jason Benson. So Mr. Boardwalk brought back a lot of memories, like my first serious kiss with a girl from Philly under the boardwalk.  My summers were in Seaside Heights rather than Atlantic City, but it had the same smell, as Greenstein describes. “Grease and sugar wafting from the takeout stands. Cigar smoke. Roasted peanuts.”

Louis Greenstein

Louis Greenstein on the boardwalk

Greenstein, whose prior works include scripts for Rugrats, has crafted a story within a story. Walking the boards some 30 years later with his wife and teenage daughter for the first time, the story of Jason the Magnificent is told in full detail interrupted only briefly by quick glimpses of the 90’s version of Jason Benson, someone who is regarded as something less than magnificent by wife, daughter and employer alike. It is a tale of failed relationships. A story of fathers and sons and wives and daughters who didn’t talk about all the things they should have.

I really enjoyed Greenstein’s coming of age tales. There’s one about how to survive a bar mitzvah when the whole religion thing seems surrealistic. And there’s the first-time toke story, something that didn’t interest Jason until he got the evil of drugs brochure in school. Shortly thereafter he “made a pipe in the kitchen by wrapping a sheet of tinfoil around a pencil…like I’d seen a guy do in the movie Woodstock.” What generation of American teenagers can’t relate to that?

If you only know Atlantic City as a setting for gangster tales of the 20’s or as the modern day gambling resort in decline, Mr Boardwalk paints a different picture. It is about Atlantic City as a family resort and a popular summer vacation destination, particularly for eastern Pennsylvania beachgoers. Greenstein’s characters are bailing out just as the casinos are moving in. One of them, the guy from the marionette theater next door to the Benson family pretzel bakery, forewarned, “Everything’s going to change. They build a casino, nobody’s gonna be on the boardwalk no more. Ghost town, ghost boardwalk.”

Fast forward to today and you have what has been referred to as ‘Detroit with a boardwalk.’ The schemers who conceptualized an East Coast Las Vegas paid no heed to the fact that ultimately you can build casinos anywhere. And they have. But you can’t take an ocean and a beautiful sandy beach and plop it down in Philly, Yonkers or an Indian reservation in Connecticut.

This is a good novel. Reminds me that I haven’t been to Atlantic City in a long time either. With summer coming up I think a ride down the Parkway is in order.

Louis Greenstein in 1963

1963 photo of Greenstein as a beach patrol mascot

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26 Responses to Mr. Boardwalk, Atlantic City

  1. Donna Janke says:

    I’ve never been to Atlantic City, but find the description of its different incarnations fascinating. It’s interesting how a place can change so much. Without having had the boardwalk experience, I wonder if I enjoy the book as much as you did.

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  2. lenie5860 says:

    This sounds like a book I would enjoy. I’m a big nostalgia buff so I’m pretty sure this is a book that I would enjoy. What a shame though what has happened to Atlantic City – from a treasured summer resort area to Detroit with a boardwalk. Hopefully it will turn around to become an enjoyable destination once again.

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  3. Meredith says:

    I didn’t know that the casinos had come so lately to Atlantic City, so I never thought about what it must have been like before. This sounds like a really interesting book, perfect for a summer read!

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  4. jacquiegum says:

    This book sounds right up my alley, Ken. And I think it’s refreshing to make Atlantic City a character of the story, and one most of us may be unfamiliar with. The gambling and booze running are so highlighted in movies, tv shows and books that I think this would be refreshing!

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  5. Beth Niebuhr says:

    I wouldn’t have thought that I’d be interested in a book about Atlantic City but you’ve described one that I will read. Such an unusual approach. Thanks for this.

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  6. I know very little of Atlantic City but the book sounds fascinating.

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  7. Have never been to Atlantic City and very much doubt that I will ever visit. The book however makes it sound more interesting than the casinos which is what I associate it with.

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  8. Sounds like an interesting book. When I was a child, my parents would take us to Atlantic City and spend the week there. This of course, was before all the large casinos were there. Now a days, we go to Atlantic City at least once a year for the day with the kids. We have family that live nearby so it is an easy day trip. Thanks for sharing this book.

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  9. “Mr. Boardwalk” sounds like a novel I would enjoy. I went to Atlantic City once. It was probably sometime in the 1990’s. The casinos didn’t impress me for more than about an hour. There was too much smoke and too many sad folks with gambling addictions. I did enjoy the boardwalk and thought the beach was beautiful. I always enjoy being close to the ocean or on a beach. Thank you for your book review.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. You write the best book reviews, Ken. You’re from Jersey? Me too! I spent my Summers in Long Branch, I went to the Boardwalk in Asbury Park. Me and Bruce : ) My memories of the boardwalk are visceral, the sounds of bells ,tinny music ,people laughing and calling out to friends, tastes of salt and carmel, it all seemed orchestrated.There is nothing like it. This book sounds delightful and I’m sure it would bring back a lot of memories.

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  11. Same here, never been to Atlantic City.
    but the book sounds interesting, like a book I would enjoy

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  12. Tim says:

    I love stories like this Ken when the reader is transported back to a time of relevance to them personally or not. We all have imaginations and historic era’s are a great platform to flex them.

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  13. This sounds like a great book with a lot of interesting history of the Boardwalk. So sad to think it was such a great family spot and they just ruined it. Can’t conjure up a worse image than Detroit with a boardwalk of try. :/

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  14. andleeb says:

    The book seems interesting. I never visited Atlantic city and do not think I will in my life but it was great to know history. It is sad that it was ruined but nice to know about Broadwalk and Philly area.

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  15. I gravitate toward any novel that focuses on the power of place, so I am sure I would enjoy this one quite a bit. Interesting too how places morph over time.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Ken, thanks for the glowing review – and thanks to Ken’s readers for your kind words and support!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Erica says:

    I remember Atlantic city (or maybe just the shore in general) was definitely the place to go in the late 80s, early 90s when I was growing up in Eastern Pennsylvania. I moved to Pennsylvania the summer before fourth grade. I quickly learned that I had to put off celebrating my late August birthday until the school year started after nobody could come to my birthday party because they were all at the shore! Sad to hear it is declining these days. This sounds like a good book and coming of age stories are always a good read.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Sounds like a very interesting book. I was in the Coast Guard and went to boot camp and was stationed at a short time at Cape May, NY., So I had spent some time in Atlantic City. I am looking forward to this book.

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  19. Jason @ TheButlerJournal.com says:

    I’ve never been to Atlantic City. It sounds like it was a fun family oriented place to go until the casinos came in.

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  20. Sounds like a good book, Ken. You just made me wonder why a family who grew up in the country choose to go to the woods of northern Pennsylvania (Tionesta) for summer vacations instead of to the beach! Have since been to Dewey Beach, Delaware and enjoyed the relative quietness of the whole thing.

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  21. tuhinmech says:

    Though I have never been to Atlantic city still I read this post with great interest till the end. Nice review..

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  22. husnaa says:

    Would never have known, never been but wouldv loved to visit the pre-version of Atlanta.
    Great post, Thank you Ken

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  23. Karenk says:

    going to look into this book, I’m always looking for new books to read.

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  24. MaryHill says:

    Thanks for sharing this review on Literacy Musing Mondays. I pinned it here: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/249246160604354308/

    I love historical books that tell the story of great places.

    Like

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