A family saga that plays out on the boardwalk

To answer the most important question: Bruce Springsteen doesn’t figure into Greetings from Asbury Park (2022) at all, and that’s absolutely OK. This tale of a group of half-siblings trying to find their respective places in the world after their late and unlamented father dies is well able to stand on its own. Asbury Park itself — and the Jersey Shore more generally — is as much a character as any of the people, and I found myself recognizing places that I have visited there in the past. That was before Asbury Park was reborn into the thriving beach town it is now, and the book does a great job of capturing the renaissance from the “townie” not tourist point of view.

David is the eldest son of Joseph Larkin and his wife. Casey is the son of Joseph and his mistress, and Gabriella (or Gabby or Gabrielle or Ella, depending on her mood and the company she’s keeping) is the daughter of Joseph and the family maid. David and Casey grew up knowing each other and their relationship was uneasy but not hostile. But neither of them knew of Ella’s existence until after Joseph’s death, and it comes as a shock for each of them in a different way.

And really, that’s the book in a nutshell: Three half-siblings, trying to figure out who they are and how they relate to each other emotionally if not genetically, and what their place is in the world. As the “official” heir of a very rich man, David struggles in early adulthood to find his own footing in a world that demands nothing from him.

There was a cruelty in his having been so well provided for at birth; he’d been robbed of misery, robbed of loss, robbed of orphanage. There isn’t anything worse than to be born both rich and proud. There wasn’t any good direction in which he could go.

— Daniel H. Turtel, Greetings from Asbury Park

Casey has had trouble coming to terms with being the illegitimate son of a powerful man, and Joseph’s death doesn’t immediately soothe his raw edges. And Ella, an only child who knew and rejected her father — and her brothers while he was alive — finds herself taking tentative steps toward trying to learn how to be part of a larger family.

There are other compelling characters whose storylines brush up against the Larkin family drama, and not always for the better. The young woman who has loved Casey since high school but is too proud to chase after him. A Syrian Jewish family whose teenage children are not left unscathed by their encounters with the Larkins or another local family, the Kowolskis. I thought a couple of these B plots were left dangling a bit, but not egregiously so.

I’ll end with Ella’s thoughts as she struggles to come to terms with her father’s death:

The notion of death swirled around in her head where it mixed with the notion of love. For what was death without love? What did it matter when strangers, when seabirds, when dogs in the street, when coastal Moroccans with their Greetings banners died? And if that was so, and without love death was a thing without sharpnesss, then by refusing to love could one remove the fangs from death?

— Daniel H. Turtel

(Note: I received an advanced copy of this book from the NetGalley program in exchange for a fair and honest review.)

Published by Julia

I learned to read before I started kindergarten, and I haven't stopped yet.

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