Mr. Boardwalk, by Louis Greenstein.
He handed me a ball. "Watch me," he said, tossing his ball into the air from one hand to the other. "Up and down. Ya see how it curves? The ball goes up. And then it comes down. But you see that split second where it ain't going up and it ain't going down? That's called the peak." He tossed the ball gently, in an even arc, from his left hand to his right. "That's where the magic happens -- at the peak. See?"
Jason Benson's father leaves his corporate job for a new adventure: a summer pretzel stand on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey. On the boardwalk, Jason finds a world of wonder, of sights and sounds and people he never dreamed before. Marionettists, a fortune-teller, and gypsies become his family and friends. Off-season life in the Philadelphia suburbs is only made tolerable by learning to juggle, a bit of performance art Jason can carry with him everywhere, bringing the magic of summer to mind with every toss. Over the years he becomes proficient at it, earning tips with every show, proud of his achievement.
But tragedy strikes with his mother's illness, and Jason has to learn how to cope with pain and loss.
...the next four years would be like juggling four balls. You break it down; you think about juggling two balls in each hand. You concentrate on each set of throws and catches. Think too much, you'll drop the balls ... When you're juggling, there's no past or future -- just throws and catches ... I knew that was how I'd survive: set a pattern, breathe in, breathe out. One day, one night, and then another day and another night. A throw, a catch, a throw, a catch.
Twenty-some years later, Jason has a wife and a grown daughter -- with whom he has never discussed the life he loved on the boardwalk. But the unexpected happens: he meets a young woman who is from Atlantic City, and the resurgence of powerful memories overwhelms him, threatens to ruin him.
Being an editor, I read a lot. Being an avid reader, I read even more. Mr. Boardwalk is easily the best book I have read in years. Louis Greenstein weaves this story flawlessly back and forth in Jason's life, from his troubled adult life to his childhood, from his secrecy to the memories of his teen years, both the treasured and the heart-breaking. Though I've never been to the boardwalk in Atlantic City, I could nearly feel the texture of the boards under my feet as I read, smell the hot pretzels and fudge and suntan lotion. Though I've never juggled, I could resonate with the concentration, the satisfaction of a perfect movement, the energy that flows back to the performer from his audience.
This was a book that I didn't save for bedtime reading; I carried it with me from room to room to dip into any time I had the chance; by halfway through I just hid in my studio and read until the book was done, unwilling to spend any more time away from it. I wished I could have lived Jason's summers on the boardwalk, talked with his friends, followed their stories for another six books at least.
The book is available in Kindle format, but really, this is one you'll want to own in hardcopy, to lounge with by the pool or to snuggle up with on wintry days when the Fourth of July seems to belong to another world.
Very, very highly recommended!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★