Lost In Jersey City

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Lost In Jersey City

(HarperCollins  1993 -  Terry Karten, Editor)

A New York Times Book Review Notable Book

Jacket illustration: Eric Fowler                      Jacket design:   Nancy Sabato

Description of Novel  


Read the First Page

          After a brief stint as a widow, and seven years of a bad second marriage to a "stingy rat," Mrs. Ida Terhune runs away from her native Baton Rouge, leaving everything behind but her two small children, four large suitcases, and her 1970 Chrysler New Yorker.  She is bound for the raw and alien world of Jersey City, where, her friend Betty Trombley assures her, Ida can get a job, because even a dead German shepherd could find work in the corrupt city government.  As Betty describes her, Ida Terhune is over-sheltered and sanctimonious -- the kind of woman who honks punitively at people who commit minor traffic infractions.  Although she settles into a new life at Betty's Grand Street apartment, Ida is horrified by Jersey City.  Historic potholes deep enough to drown a mule threaten her New Yorker; members of the city school board are under investigation for extortion, bribery, and dispensing rotten food to elementary schoolers; and Betty's landlord, Rupert Dixon, refuses to do anything about the pool of sewer water flooding the basement and has hired his son, Chicken, to terrorize the Grand Street Tenants' Association.  Although she would prefer to squirrel herself away in her own world, Ida is drawn unwittingly into an escalating conflict with Dixon, and into an unlikely association with Betty's friend Mike Ribeiro, "a criminal lawyer in both senses of the word."  Eventually Ida finds herself at the center of a notorious homicide trail, under circumstances that threaten her sense of morality and decorum, and ultimately, her sense of self.  Mike Ribeiro, Betty, and the Grand Street tenants come to her aid, with comic and heroic results.



The New York Times Book Review (by Walter Sattertwait;):

"Ms. Sharp, unlike Ida, has a fine, freewheeling sense of humor, and she provides her story with a terrific troop of characters, all vibrant and quirky:  brash Betty Trombley, the towering, irreverent, quick-thinking, fast-talking reformed tomboy;  Mike Ribeiro, the slovenly yet dashing, cynical yet romantic criminal lawyer; Angel Rodriquez, the proprietor of a pest-removal service whose jacket pockets sport, with a slight nod to Luis Bunuel, the words "exterminator Angel."  And there are Ida's two children, Skeet and Sherry, both beautifully drawn as distinct individuals.  Funny and shrewd and sensitive, they are as far removed from the smug, wisecracking kids of television sitcoms as Jersey City is from the moon. And of course, there's Jersey City itself, its air stinking of fish and sewage, its gamy streets potholed, its landlords wicked, its cops crooked, its politicians and judges warped by greed and corruption.  Ms. Sharp exploits these wonderful possibilities, both comic and tragic, with skill, compassion and zest.  By the end of "Lost in Jersey City," Ida Terhune has, thank good ness, begun a tentative move to self-knowledge -- or at least to self-questioning, the parent of understanding and change.  Ms. Sharp, against all odds, has made us hope for this, and care that it happens.  Having set herself a task that is very nearly impossible, she is to be congratulated for achieving it and very nearly perfectly. 

The Los Angeles Times (by Christ Goodrich): 

       "A wonderful novel ...[ Sharp's] development of Ida's story is so beautifully controlled, and her sympathy for human idiosyncrasy so deep, that the book holds constant and agreeable surprises.  Sharp does here what Louis Malle does in so many of his films:  She makes the odd event seem inevitable, the natural effect of an unnatural occurrence ... Sharp tends toward the sly and amusing rather than the profound and philosophical, making Lost in Jersey City that rare thing, a comic novel of substance.  [Virginia] Woolf, I suspect, would have loved it -- and perhaps even even a little envious."

The Memphis Commercial Appeal (by Frederic Koeppel):   

"In case you hadn't noticed, Jersey City is not Baton Rouge... That discrepancy, and Ida's inflexibility are at the heart of Lost in Jersey City, Paula Sharp's hilarious and touching second novel ... It's a pleasure to put yourself in the hands of an author who cares enough about her book and her readers to invest even her minor characters with humanity and individuality." 


First Page of Lost in Jersey City

   If you venture too far from home, life will wrestle you to the ground; it will carry you off to troubling places you could not have imagined; it will alter you, against your will, into a person whom you barely recognize, into someone you would not even want to say hello to.  This is what Mrs. Terhune would have told you, had she been able to put her muddled thoughts into so many words.  When she allowed herself to consider, even for a moment, what she was about to do, she experienced a panicky feeling that she already had ceased to be herself.

        "I can't believe you talked me into this," Mrs. Terhune said, as her Chrysler New Yorker, pale blue and monstrous, nosed onto the road.                 

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