I picked up this book at my local BAM for $6, and it’s one of those rare occasions where I would have happily paid full price for a clearance rack book.
Palisades Park covers the lives of the Stopka family over the course of four decades, and how the titular amusement park factors into their existences. I enjoy stories that take place over lengthy periods of time and carnival/amusement park stories. It’s no wonder I enjoyed Palisades Park as much as I did.
I grew up in a household that was essentially an extension of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. My father loved his John Wayne Westerns, Old Yeller and Shane, and my mother loved her TMC and AMC flashback classics, like The Greatest Show on Earth and Yankee Doodle Dandy. Palisades Park took me back to my childhood, back to sitting in front of our floor set watching these big-budget black-and-white movies with ensemble casts. This is the first book I’ve ever read that felt like it was filmed in black and white and Technicolor at the same time. Read it. You’ll see what I mean.
What I did not expect to enjoy as much as I did was Alan Brennert’s enthusiastic love for all things Hawai’i. My grandmother, a belly dancer until the day she died in 2011, had this challenge she offered all of her grandkids. If you graduated high school, you got a trip to Hawai’i, all expenses paid. The only caveat was that you had to go with her. Whatever. It was Hawai’i and it was free. None of those who went complained. Unfortunately, I was one of the only grandkids to miss the opportunity. I had to drop out of school my junior year to help my mother make ends meet. She’d broken her knee at work while descending wet stairs, and while workman’s comp took care of 66% of her income, it wasn’t enough. At that point in my life, we were living paycheck to paycheck, and not having that other 34% hurt. Badly. So I went to work stuffing the broiler at Burger King for as many hours as child labor laws allow a sixteen year old to work. I eventually went on to get my GED and go to college, but I’d missed my chance at a free ride to Honolulu. Reading about Eddie Stopka’s time on the islands during his stint in the Navy made me, for the first time, regret not getting that trip to Hawai’i. There’s nothing I could have done to fix it, short of letting my family starve, but I didn’t know how much that missed opportunity meant to me until I read this book. Brennert obviously adores the islands, as his rich descriptions and tangible passion shows page after page. One day, when my kids are both old enough to enjoy it, I’ll take my trip into the South Pacific. While I’m there, I’ll lift a glass to my grandmother, the woman who bought me my first electric guitar and told me to be whatever made me happy and damn the rest of the world, and wish that she was there.
My, I do ramble at times, huh? Sorry to all those who started reading this expecting a detailed review, but that’s not really my bag. I attach books to memories, and my memories attach themselves to books. The good, the bad, the absolutely unreadable, they have all marked my life in some way. Palisades Park will always remind me of my grandmother. Thanks, Mr. Brennert.
In summation: Palisades Park is a touching story magically and masterfully told. If Palisades Park in its heyday is where you want to be, brothers and sisters, Alan Brennert will take you there. It might take you a few other places, as well. I wish you all a pleasant journey.
Final Judgment: Breathtaking and heartbreaking and wonderful.