253 pages
ISBN 1-55022-340-2
DDC C813'.54





Reviewed by Geoff Hamilton

Geoff Hamilton is a Toronto-based freelance editor and writer.


Boardwalk is Joseph Kertes’s second novel; his first, Winter Tulips
(1988), won the Stephen Leacock Award. Boardwalk tells the story of
brothers Eddie and Clyde, who venture by car from Toronto to Atlantic
City. The amoral but charming Clyde is after some gambling and adultery,
while schmucky Eddie, the novel’s narrator, is along for the ride.
During their stay the two encounter a multitude of strange characters,
with Eddie falling for a lounge singer named Bunny, narrowly avoiding a
sexual liaison with a transvestite, succumbing to a gang of deformed
muggers, and eventually befriending another (this time jolly) gang of
thugs, who gallantly rescue him.

The novel is patently a rewrite of The Catcher in the Rye, with the
22-year-old Eddie serving as a weepy and charmless version of Holden
Caulfield. The sensitive teenager adrift is now the hapless young
Canadian adrift, older but infinitely less wise. While Holden was
precocious and delightfully witty, Eddie is a kind of senile adolescent
who brings to his adventures little more than a copious stock of insipid
observations. Explicit allusions to the earlier work abound and,
painfully, only draw more attention to the weakness of Kertes’s
writing. Eddie’s concern for migrating Canada geese, for instance, and
his conversations with the precocious young girl Kathleen (a sadly,
almost profanely resurrected Phoebe), will irritate anyone who cares for
the originals.

The “wacky” supporting cast adds pale and hackneyed color to the
Boardwalk, while Atlantic City itself never transcends crude caricature.
The pace of Kertes’s tale is fast. Its 250 pages can be read in one,
rather tedious, sitting—but only because nothing challenges the reader
to reflect. At one point, as Bunny reveals details of her tangled past
amid great confusion, Clyde pipes up in exasperation: “Can someone
please tell me what the hell is going on here?”—a line aptly lifted
from sitcom hell, minus, gratefully, the laugh track. Alas, nothing much
is going on in this all too boring walk through America.


Kertes, Joseph., “Boardwalk,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 16, 2024,