Coming of age story set in 1939 Atlantic City is good summer read
It is 1939, 10 years into the Great Depression. The United States looks on as Europe teeters on the brink of World War. In Atlantic City money is tight but summertime on the Boardwalk is still a magical time with big bands on the Steel Pier, well dressed men and women strolling the boards, pitchmen selling their wares and teenagers looking to have a good time.
Author J. Louis Yampolsky, encouraged by his granddaughter to write about his memories of Atlantic City, came up with A Boardwalk Story, a classic coming of age tale. The main character is 15-year-old Jack Laurel who lives in the Lower Chelsea section of town and hangs with his best friends Eddie, Bernie and Blinky.
As the summer of 1939 unfolds, Jack’s job at Krilow’s Kitchen Gadgets turns into an opportunity to become friends with a group of adults that will change his life forever. Jack learns what it feels like to be treated like an adult, to gamble his money in investments, to fall in and out of love and to do business with a mobster. The mobster angle in A Boardwalk Story gives it the ambience of A Bronx Tale but with ocean breezes.
Rubbing elbows with an older crowd is intoxicating for Jack. His new friends are Benny James, a ladies man, top pitchman at Krilow’s and a savant when it comes to mathematics. The Great Roland, a star on the Boardwalk as “The Mechanical Man,” is really a quiet 40-year-old named Morris. Alan Goran is a man who invests money in cocoa bean futures with Kreiger and Son and soon has new recruits for this moneymaking scheme that could really payoff if the United States goes to war. All of Jack’s new friends will also become reluctant partners with Bobo Truck, a notorious mobster who, like his other new friends, takes Jack under his wing.
Yampolsky is a retired accountant and while there are passages in the book that spend too much time explaining cocoa bean futures, the rest of the tale is an engrossing read, especially for fans of Atlantic City’s colorful history.
He gets the details just right. For example he talks about middle class families who move into the basement in the summer and rent out the top of their homes to help pay their bills. My family in Ventnor still did that in the late ’50s and early 1960s. Yampolsky also provides lots of tidbits about Atlantic City of the era, from the Steel Pier to the reason one beach was known as Chicken Bone Beach.
In an interview with AC Weekly, Yampolsky explains that while helping his granddaughter with a school history project, he couldn’t stop thinking about his memories of Atlantic City. “It was in front of me having talked about it and talked about it, and I decided I ought to write it down. I was writing and it morphed into a novel. I tried to portray a sense of the times and I think I did that.”
Yampolsky’s family spent many summers at the shore when they could afford it, staying at various boarding houses. Once he was a teenager, he worked in Atlantic City during the summer including at Krilow’s.
He isn’t a big fan of fiction and the occasional times he has read fictional stories he has been disappointed by the endings. “As a result,” says Yampolsky, “I wanted to give readers a satisfying conclusion. I didn’t want to cheat them.”
With A Boardwalk Story he has succeeded in his effort to keep readers entertained right to the finish.
A Boardwalk Story
A novel by J. Louis Yampolsky
List price: $24.95
George Jackson opened the Steel Pier in 1898, less than 50 years after Atlantic City’s incorporation. He was followed by owner Frank P. Gravatt, a showman who realized the public’s appetite for an eclectic mix of entertainment in one location at one price, 25 cents.
The Catanoso brothers were already seasoned amusement-park veterans when they reopened Atlantic City’s Steel Pier with 14 rides in 1993, a scant 22 days after signing a five-year lease that extended to the year the famous Pier turned 100.
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