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A New Jersey of the mind ...

June 29, 2007 |  3:19 pm

New_jersey Yes, I know ... New Jersey is the great nowhere between New York and Pennsylvania, famous for its turnpike and its refineries and, for the last several years, the exploits of Tony Soprano and his crew. But New Jersey has also spawned a lot of writers — including William Carlos Williams and Philip Roth. Joyce Carol Oates lives in Princeton; Richard Ford wrote an entire trilogy about the place. Now, a new generation has emerged to take on the state’s odd mix of the blighted and the benighted: the suburbia to end all suburbias, a universe of endless sprawl.

In “Living on the Edge of the World” (Touchstone: 242 pp., $14 paper), editor Irina Reyn has assembled 18 essays by writers including Tom Perrotta, Jonathan Ames, Lucinda Rosenfeld and Dani Shapiro, who look at New Jersey not as a state of the union but as a state of mind. It’s a great idea — not because it plays against our preconceptions (it doesn’t) but because it encourages us to engage with the place at a level that’s beyond cliché.

New Jersey, after all, is a lot like anywhere: a place to run from, a place to run to, a place where you might find out who you are. And in a nod to the state’s lingering status as cultural punch line, all the contributors here are identified by the highway exit they live near, a deft touch that reminds me of Michael Rumaker’s masterful New Jersey story “Exit 3.”

David L. Ulin