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In an impressive debut collection, surprise outcomes and absurdist touches inform the misadventures of adults and adolescents living the blue-collar life on the New Jersey shore.
In interlinked stories that combine the poignant coming-of-age humor of Thomas Rogers' Jerry Engels novels and the weird wrinkles of George Saunders' stories, Kardos presents a gallery of lovable losers struggling with jobs, relationships and fading dreams in the fictional town of Breakneck Beach. The grown-ups include a school-bus driver sleeping with his wife's sister who ill-fatedly kidnaps kids on a long drive to nowhere, and a high-school music teacher just short of retirement who self-destructs when his superiors force him to lower the standards of his orchestra. The teens include a mysterious girl from a town of 204 where births and deaths are arranged so they don't have to change the number on road signs, and a boy who outrages his father, a corrections officer, by imitating the faded movie-theater organist who gives florid performances in their home in the guise of lessons. The less-successful stories involve the ashes of another music teacher and a female ghost seeking vengeance. Kardos is such an original, offbeat, revealing talent that he has no need to indulge in such gimmicks. Among his other achievements is to leave lasting impressions of such attractions as the Castle of Horrors, a pier side attraction where a teen's crush on his attractive boss is requited, Richie's Famous Organ Store, where a music teacher moonlights, and the Wawa food mart, where three kids get to know each other in the middle of the night during a power outage.
Affecting stories about New Jersey oddballs trying to overcome difficult circumstances.