Everyone has an opinion about New Jersey, even if all you know is Springsteen, The Sopranos, or Jersey Shore. As someone that has lived in all of Jersey’s border states and even lived in the Pine Barrens for a year, Jersey is far more complicated than the Turnpike rest stop you are probably thinking of. Forget everything you know about Jersey and let Thomas Pluck give you a tour of his slice of the Garden State.
Pluck’s Bad Boy Boogie (Down & Out Books) is a character-driven novel about Jay Desmarteaux, but it is also a novel pushed on by the town and people of Nutley, New Jersey. Pluck skillfully tells the story of Jay, a con recently released from prison for killing the rapist-bully son of the Nutley’s Mr. Potter. By my count, there are four timelines woven throughout Bad Boy Boogie: the five-year-old Jay, the teenager Jay, the prison Jay, and the ex-con Jay. To say that Pluck handles popping in and out of the timelines well would be an understatement. What makes Bad Boy Boogie work is Pluck’s ability to give each story its own vibe without being obtrusive.
The five-year-old Jay lives in a world of monsters and things he cannot understand, somewhere between fairy tales and King-like shit:
Fingers with broken nails brushed back his bangs. Revealed the Witch’s rotten smile. Just a kiss, just a kiss. The boy grabbed the doorknob and the Witch yanked him by the ankles. Dragged him along the moldy carpet toward a pair of oil-stained work boots.
The Gator man.
The terror does not disappear in Pluck’s version of Jay’s coming-of-age shit, after all, there’s a teenage bully roaming free throughout Nutley doing horrible things to the younger kids of the town. Jay’s time in prison is the most linear and matter-of-fact of Pluck’s writing but it stands up well against the other stories. The present-day story that is filled with action of Jay’s revenge and, as with the other story lines, there’s some pretty dope lyrical prose as well. Here is Jay working as a bouncer at a strip club.
Jay stood in a corner of the club, reading the swarm of bodies like he was still in the prison yard. Fear in their body language, the macho posturing of men drunk on overpriced liquor and the power of a handful of dollars. The trapped eyes of dancers working the hustle.
As you read Pluck’s Bad Boy Boogie, the novel gets better page by page and, even if you find it disturbing, you keep going on. If you don’t think shit can happen, brace yourself because it’s gonna happen. My reading of Bad Boy Boogie turned into a slow read as I wanted to enjoy all of Pluck’s words as much as Jay enjoys the rippers at Rutt’s Hut. With the roots of Bad Boy Boogie deep in Jersey, Pluck gives us a great crime thriller filled with energized action and harrowing deceit.