Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Week 8: State - New Jersey

New Jersey, known famously as The Garden State, is the second Mid-Atlantic state on this trip. The 4th smallest state it lies entirely within the metropolitan areas of New York City and Philadelphia making it the most densely populated state in the United States (8.7 million people). It is also the second wealthiest behind Connecticut in terms of median income and has the highest percentage of millionaire households, although the largest city in the state, Newark, is the fourth poorest city in America and poverty has been a long standing issue in the industrial cities of the north (the more affluent communities are all in the suburbs of New York and Philadelphia). New Jersey is home to more scientists and engineers per square mile than anywhere else in the world, and is the resting place of Thomas Edison who built his first industrial research laboratory in Menlo Park in the town of Raritan, which changed its name to Edison in 1951 in his honor. Edison also did most of his work in developing motion picture technology at his laboratory in the town of West Orange where he constructed the Black Maria - the first motion picture studio in 1893. New Jersey is also the home state of Frank Sinatra, who was born in Hoboken, and Bruce Springsteen, who hails from Freehold and has sung of New Jersey life throughout his career. Historically New Jersey was the site of the first Miss America Pageant (1921 in Atlantic City), the first drive-in movie theatre (1933 in Camden), and in 1937 witnessed the destruction of the LZ 129 Hindenburg passenger airship when it caught fire in attempting to dock at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station. The George Washington Bridge connecting Fort Lee, New Jersey to New York City is the world's busiest bridge in terms of vehicular traffic, and the New Jersey Turnpike, which features heavily in the opening titles of The Sopranos, is the best known toll road in the country. The capital is Trenton.

Films set in New Jersey include most of the output of Kevin Smith (his first three films, Clerks., Mallrats and Chasing Amy, were dubbed the "New Jersey Trilogy"), Garden State, The Wrestler (Elizabeth, Union County), and Be Kind Rewind (Passaic, Passaic County). Several television series have also been set in the state, most notably the HBO series The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire, the latter set in prohibition-era Atlantic City, home to the longest boardwalk in the world. The most celebrated New Jersey novelist would have to be Philip Roth, who has set the majority of his books in the state, many semi-autobiographical and examining middle-class Jewish American life in and around the city of Newark where he was born in 1933 and raised. To date I have read only one novel by Philip Roth - Portnoy's Complaint (1969) - the novel that made his name, so in this instance I have gone with the book that won him the Pulitzer Prize, American Pastoral.

American Pastoral, first published in 1997, is part of the Zuckerman (Roth's alter-ego) series of novels and focuses on the life of Newark athletics star Swede Levov and the tragedy that befalls him when his teenage daughter transforms into a domestic terrorist. Set against the backdrop of the Vietnam war during the late 1960s it takes place mostly within the city of Newark and the ficticious town of Old Rimrock, New Jersey.

Review to follow this/next week:

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