The Lost Legends of New Jersey

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Anthony Rubin, the young protagonist of Frederick Reiken’s second novel The Lost Legends of New Jersey, may or may not have found his heart’s match in his neighbor Juliette Dimiglio, the daughter of a reputed New Jersey mafioso. His mother—who has left his father following her discovery of his on-going affair with her best friend—no longer believes in love. Meanwhile, Anthony’s father, Michael, and his Grandpa Max, are both still fervent believers and seekers.

As a storyteller, Reiken is a master of economy of means. His narrative of the lives and loves of the Rubins unfolds in rich detail but with little authorial intrusion. What the heart needs and how it finds it, Reiken implies, are very important questions. There are no neat and sure answers, however. Reiken seems to be saying: This is how it is; this is what happened. Make of this story what you will.

By choosing to make the sensitive teenager Anthony the center—and occasional narrator—of his story, Reiken has guaranteed that there will be a large share of rollercoaster emotions and bittersweet sentiment in his story, but he handles his young protagonist with restraint and aplomb. Because Anthony’s confused feelings are so poignantly and carefully rendered, his father’s and grandfather’s simply told stories are more charged with feeling than we would normally expect to find in the adventures of a middle-aged heart and an elderly heart, both still seeking completion in the body and soul of another person.

What’s the answer to the question of b’shert? Reiken’s answer is provided by Anthony’s reflections in the final pages: “There is no way I can tell you everything, though I’d like to. One of the problems with all stories is they have borders. Then you extrapolate, like in algebra. You use things you know to guess at what is left outside the border.”