Riding Out the Repercussions

Adrift teen Tom Alison anchors this cautionary but invigorating novel about identity, culpability and class.

"Down the Shore" by Stan Parish.

Tom Alison, the acutely observant narrator of Stan Parish’s compelling first novel, Down the Shore, helps his single mom with her catering business in Princeton when he isn’t surfing off LBI or selling weed to his classmates at the elite Lawrenceville School. By the time the novel opens, he’s been busted for dealing, and his acceptance to an Ivy League college has been rescinded.

It’s Memorial Day weekend, 2003, and Tom’s college-bound crowd is in full par-tay mode. Tom goes with the flow, which Parish (who has written restaurant reviews for NJM) vividly renders from Tom’s often stoned yet uncannily composed perspective.

Parish has more on his mind than mindless fun. Tom straddles two worlds: “trust fund babies,” as one character puts it, and working-class kids like himself. “Maybe you’ve figured this out already,” the same character tells him, “but you’re either the help or you’re not.”

The novel moves to Scotland, where Tom and his school friend Clare—the son of a Wall Street string-puller fleeing the law and maybe the Mob—spend a coke-fueled freshman year at St. Andrews University (which Parish himself attended). Down the Shore concludes at the Shore, with Tom at sea in more ways than one.

Parish, 31, a Lawrenceville grad, deftly lets the issues of identity, culpability and class ripple around his characters instead of breaking over their heads like waves. The book is cautionary, but thoroughly invigorating. One of its chief pleasures is the idiomatic dialogue of its many colorful characters, not all of whom are young.

Down the Shore reads like a long, fast, rolling wave, expertly and purposefully ridden right to its gentle, subsiding end.

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