Jewish World Review April 21, 2003 / 19 Nisan, 5763

Lewis A. Fein

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Formula for Disaster: loyalty + strength = familial pride | Few states contain as much diversity and contradictory imagery as New Jersey: densely populated suburban townships, Wall Street money and Philadelphia freedom claim the horizon; chemical factories and pharmaceutical plants, offset by the perpetual release of smoke and industrial hum; congested highways and an active airport, each with its own form of abundant litter (crumpled cups and crinkled newspapers, thick exhaust and powerful sound); Princeton's Gothic spires and Atlantic City's plaster minarets; author Eric Dezenhall's emotional home.

Dezenhall's new novel, an innovative tale of intrigue and corruption titled "Jackie Disaster," provides readers with an insider's account about New Jersey's multiple personalities and its undeniable benefits. Include various ethnic dialects, interspersed with Mafioso talk and religious exceptions, and Dezenhall's theorem is unshakable -- loyalty + strength = familial pride.

Yet, it is Jackie Disaster himself, the novel's namesake and the author's intellectual alter ego, who dominates the page. Disaster is a crisis communications expert, a role Dezenhall masters in the proverbial real world; and a job both characters - from Disaster's artful handling of cynical reporters to Dezenhall's perfect description of the same - know intimately. Along the way, Disaster employs a collection of aging gangsters while traversing two incompatible worlds: the glitz and corruption of the casino floor (echoed by a winner's sudden jackpot or an addict's inevitable loss), juxtaposed against the backroom's tedium and actuarial precision.

Even more challenging is Disaster's most recent client, a corporate diva and self-created personality called Sally Naturale. Naturale is herself a perfect caricature of modern times, a combination of Madonna, Martha Stewart and Eva Peron. Disaster's responsibility is to rescue Sally from an enormous public scandal, an accusation concerning Naturale's sale of allegedly poisoned milk. Disaster finds help from a supporting cast of local law enforcement, clever pollsters and sly politicians -- Dezenhall's own brand of merry mischief and literary high jinx.

Still, the unspoken character throughout this morality tale is the great state of New Jersey. The state is a final refuge for individuals without emotional inheritors: that is, for every veteran gangster and gumshoe reporter the spiritual bloodline ends; there is no contemporary equivalent - no "New and Improved" version - of the capo, don or consiglere. But Dezenhall celebrates (indeed, he beautifully articulates) the underworld's code of honor, loyalty and strength. This world is Jackie Disaster's spiritual address.

And Jackie's actions unfold within the broader context of post-9/11 America, a shaken yet nonetheless resilient atmosphere of pride and determination. For it is Jackie's eternal values, and Dezenhall's expressive talents, that define personal sincerity: anger toward the phony and manipulative, justice for the weak and exploited; satisfaction against the duly prosecuted and joy before the newly liberated. The novel's message rings even louder -- "Lavish the good with protection and love. Punish evil with swift and severe power. Learn and emulate respect. Thus speaks Jackie Disaster."

Jackie Disaster is a man of imagination and strength. He embodies Dezenhall's principles and New Jersey's greatness: a gritty and textured portrait of life beyond the turnpike and alongside the boardwalk. The book reflects the author's values and a great state's hidden charm -- the Garden State! The literary experience is pure fun.

JWR contributor Lewis A. Fein is a writer and Internet entrepreneur in Los Angeles.Comment by clicking here.


© 2003, Lewis A. Fein