Jewish World Review June 10, 2004 / 21 Sivan, 5764

Lewis A. Fein

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Jersey Boy: Eric Dezenhall Returns | The most beloved or popular celebrity is usually an extension of — a symbolic spokesperson for — an equally famous community: New York, San Francisco, Boston, Atlanta, Miami or Dallas. But for Eric Dezenhall, author of "Shakedown Beach," (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.) no one city fully captures the give-and-take between urban life and suburban fantasy, between majestic scenery and constant development, between undeserved infamy and justly earned mythology — New Jersey! This great state, which is also my native land, is an essential backdrop for Dezenhall's latest novel, the final installment in a trilogy about politics, media and scandal. All of which is fertile territory for Dezenhall's unparalleled expertise — he is a communications adviser and former White House operative — thus making "Shakedown Beach" both a political primer and source of refreshing entertainment.

Indeed, Dezenhall's "magic" — in this case, a term of praise and accuracy — is his personal gift, culled from his experience among presidents and senators (with an equally robust sampling of executives and corporate titans), that makes the novel's characters compelling and believable. And throughout, the reader tabulates the money, liquor, neon, tobacco smoke and luxuriant power that defines "Shakedown Beach" . . . Jersey, baby! But these words are, again, a tribute to Dezenhall's love for — and my seconding of - that great state, the birthplace of Springsteen and Sinatra. This land is New Jersey, a condensed archive of history — a tangible encyclopedia, with pages written on the turnpike and parkway; grand memories archived on the boardwalk and inside the casino, a memoir from Eric Dezenhall's imagination.

I admire Dezenhall's creative genius because, rather than reduce himself to partisan advocacy or predictable behavior, he actually reveals the mechanics of everyday politics: the suspicious contracts and unsavory figures, the aggressive journalists and masterful leaders — politics, Jersey-style. And, caught between his regal ambitions (which, in these democratic times, must suffice as nothing more than senatorial dreams) and unsavory actions, stands "Rebound" Rothman, an individual who reflects the power and literary skill of Dezenhall's gift for politics-as-entertainment. Rothman is a perfect encapsulation of various real-life political figures, a fictional insert among those initialized giants, JFK, RFK and LBJ.

Dezenhall also revisits characters from his previous novels, providing a sense of continuity throughout his chronicle of the excitement and intrigue that governs New Jersey. For a fan of these novels — and I heartily consider myself a member of this celebratory committee — this device keeps readers attentive, enabling them to recall plot lines, action scenes and gritty dialogue. An additional gift is the book's realistic depiction of politics, which is lively and entertaining.

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Eric Dezenhall is himself a man of quiet modesty, albeit with an author's inner cadence and a reporter's purposeful zeal. In other words, he knows where the bodies are buried. He knows the secret — nay, the genius — of American politics: compromise . . . with some necessary coercion at times. A contradiction, to be sure, but an admonition nonetheless — "Beware of the politician who neither seeks nor bestows favors." Heartfelt advice written by a political veteran, and an astute philosophy seemingly abused by candidate Rothman.

"Shakedown Beach" reflects these political words, offering a textured portrait of New Jersey and the political process. The end-result is a literary triumph and a moral rulebook. Thank you, Eric Dezenhall. New Jersey salutes you.

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


© 2004, Lewis A. Fein