From Rockaway, Jill Eisenstadt: Book Review

A touching coming of age story.

from rockaway jill eisenstadt book reviewLittle, Brown and Company / Jill Eisenstadt
From Rockaway Book Cover From Rockaway
Jill Eisenstadt
Adult Fiction
Little, Brown and Company
1985
Paperback
244

Timmy and Chowderhead and Peg are lifeguards. They spend summers sitting in those tall chairs, smoking dope and staring at the waves, swatting insects, tormenting seagulls. Winters they work shit jobs like unloading trucks at Mickey's Deli. At night, winter and summer, they drink. Drink and get rowdy. Then there's Alex, the girl who gets away, not only from old boyfriend Timmy but also from "Rotaway"-on scholarship to a rich-kid's college in New England. One midsummer night when the four are reunited, tensions erupt in feats of daring and self-destruction during the wild, cathartic, near-sacred lifeguard ritual known as the Death Keg. Brilliantly capturing the restlessness and casual nihilism of working-class youth with no options, Jill Eisenstadt's acclaimed first novel startles in its power and originality, its depth of feeling, its bright and dark comic turns.

This review contains quotes from the novel.

*Special thanks to Little, Brown and Company for allowing us to read Jill Eisenstadt’s From Rockaway.

Jill Eisenstadt‘s From Rockaway captures what it is like to be a young adult that has no other options but to be in the working force.

1980s New York: Peg, Timmy, and Chowderhead are working as lifeguards at their local beach, where all there is to do is look out at the ocean, and ensure people are not drowning or smoking weed. But during the winter months, they have to work crappy jobs, like at Mickey’s Deli, where they spend their days and nights loading and unloading trucks. Unfortunately for the three of them, there really are no other career options for them. They’re stuck in this beach town with no drive to go out into the world and figure out what exactly it is they want to do for the rest of their lives.

“Cicadas are drawn to the green stripes on orange lifeguard bathing suits. Fly directly at you in their fat, blind cicada way, while mosquitoes, they circle with a purpose. Hover, then strike. And biting flies are silver black with green eyes. Once moths become moths they have no stomachs or mouths and they die.

Timmy lists insects to stay awake on the tower. To stop thinking of Alex. To test the brain cells his mother is convinced he’s destroying. Hundreds of them at a time.”

-excerpt from Jill Eisenstadt’s From Rockaway

Then there’s Alex, another person who was once a part of their tight-knit group. She was just like one of them, immobile, unable to set herself free from this ghost town. That was until she landed a scholarship to attend college in New England. But when she comes back for the summer and stirs up drama. The drama she brings is the fact she felt the need to leave this dead-end job and the people in it.   She used to date Timmy, but when she went to college that all ended. Alex was in the inner circle with Timmy, Peg, and Chowderhead. But they felt as if she thought they weren’t good enough for her and she left for New England to get a new life and new friends. But when she comes back for the summer, they still haven’t gotten over her living them. So there are still unresolved feelings between all of them.

One night the four of them reunite for old time’s sake; they all participate in what’s called the Death Keg, which is a cathartic and sacred ritual for lifeguards, and tensions grow high. The Death Keg has been a tradition in their small beach town for a long time. And when Alex comes back they are finally able to complete it. The night turns into a lot of destruction and daring events between the four friends.

This was a great novel that describes the struggles of what it was like for youth during the 1980s pressured into working-class life at such a young age. I liked how Eisenstadt was able to give her readers some insight into what each character was experiencing during their beginning stages into the working-class lifestyle. I would certainly recommend From Rockaway to anyone who enjoys books that reflect a culture that many young people are living in today.

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Jessica Duffield
the authorJessica Duffield
Contributing Writer
I am a sophomore in college. Books are my passion and I hope to work in book publishing once I graduate.