Nothing warms the cold heart of an author more than getting a nice shot in the arm from your fellow writers. Case in point: some great love and praise for Songs of Vagabonds, Misfits, and Sinners from Twenty Stories author Kristin Fouquet and The Red Album of Asbury Park scribe Alex Austin. Being a fan of both Kristin and Alex (as you can tell by my own reviews of Twenty Stories and The Red Album of Asbury Park), it was great to receive such high marks from both.
Kristin chimed in via a post on her Le Salon Annex blog:
Ken Wohlrob must love his city. The author of The Love Book returns with stories so encrusted with the ambiance of New York, they could not have come from anyone else other than a resident. These stories, sometimes soft focused and sentimental about the city that was, other times microscopic in their harsh scrutiny, share one thing in common- characters. Wohlrob empathizes with these denizens occupying a rapidly evolving environment.
Alex via his review on GoodReads.
In his aptly named new collection of stories, Songs of Vagabonds, Misfits and Sinners, Wohlrob presents a cast of New York denizens trapped by self-delusion, drug addiction, dehumanizing jobs, self-destructive ambitions, family loyalty, old school entropy, smothering debt and always reliable fate, whose only reward for this shit blizzard called life is a moment or two of stunning bewildering truth.
And now that you’re inspired to pick up a copy of Songs…, be sure to grab these excellent books from Kristin and Alex as well. Also check out Alex’s The Red Album of Asbury Park Remixed podcast which includes the full novel along with songs from a slew of Garden State bands.
Having been born and raised in New Jersey, I’m often asked by non-Jersians, “What was it like?” I usually get odd stares when I respond with, “Like the circus left town.”
There is a sadness to New Jersey. If you’ve lived there you know what I’m talking about. It’s hard to see past the state borders. Things outside of New Jersey just don’t seem possible. Maybe that is why, too often, people never leave New Jersey. They usually wind up just staying put, residing two towns over from where they grew up, still hanging out with the same high school friends. As they get older, their worldview may expand, but often it’s too late. New Jersey has them. To leave it all behind would be to rip themselves from the womb. I was lucky enough to leave when I was 18. Looking back on those that didn’t, I realized that was the sadness of New Jersey: being trapped in place that never offered much promise to begin with. Seeing it now, it always feels like the circus just left town, a pale memory of it drifting down the turnpike.
That sense of sadness is all over Alex Austin’s The Red Album of Asbury Park. It is in the setting: Springsteen-land in the late 1960s, a once thriving seaside getaway, now a rundown hulk of decaying buildings, degenerates, dive bars, thieves, decrepit amusements, gangsters, and junkies. (Go there now and you’ll see not much has changed, except the amusements are gone). It is also in the main character. Vet Sam Nesbitt has just come back from Vietnam. He’s one of the lucky ones. The horrors of war have given him a worldview that goes beyond Ocean Avenue. He wants out. He wants to make something of himself, to escape the ghosts of days past, and not become another lost cause walking the streets of Asbury Park. That’s more than once can say of his binge-drinking mother, his deceased father (who had his own secrets), and his unmotivated brother (or perhaps just motivated in the wrong directions).
Here’s a quick “heads up” about two new books you should check out.
First up is good friend Ben Tanzer’s new short story collection Repetition Patterns. In a very cool move, the collection is being released as an e-book only download by The Chicago Center for Literature and Photography (CCLaP), with a pay-what-you-want pricing setup (just like Radiohead did with In Rainbows). It is great to see someone testing out the pay-what-you-want scheme with publishing. But lest I get too caught up on the distribution side, do check out Repetition Patterns for the stories. Having read with Ben and really enjoyed his first novel, Lucky Man, I can tell you he’s a hell of a storyteller.
Also just released is the brand new novel from fellow ex-New Jersian Alex Austin, titled The Red Album of Asbury Park. I was lucky enough to read a few chapters from The Red Album… prior to its publication and Alex nails that down-and-out sadness of the Jersey Shore perfectly. It has the characters — the gangsters and musicians and lowlifes and surfers and the beaten and broken. But it also has a good story; a tale of murder and ambition set in a 1960s Asbury Park that’s lost its luster. Gritty stuff and well worth $15 cover price.