Why even fiction authors should get their facts right (We’re looking at you, Jennifer Close)
July 13, 2013 | 5:19 pm
I spent eight years living “down the shore”—that’s a term many people from New Jersey and Southeastern Pennsylvania use when referring to the Jersey Shore. I lived two blocks from the beach in Ventnor, one of the best places I’ve ever lived.
Even though I didn’t grow up in South Jersey I still consider it home.
So, I was excited when my old town came up while reading “The Smart One” by Jennifer Close“. Even though Close referred to it as “Ventnor City,” I wasn’t going to be put off. After all, that is the town’s proper name—even if no one calls it that.
But it became a big deal, as Close got nearly every other Ventnor detail wrong.
Close described the boardwalk with its shops and games. The family in the book played skee-ball. One of the girls had her hair braided. The characters also spent time in a T-shirt store on the Ventnor Boardwalk.
But here’s the thing: None of this could have happened. Because while there is a boardwalk in Ventnor, there aren’t any stores on it to speak of. None. Not one.
The Ventnor Boardwalk sits alongside houses and the occasional condo—but no shops. The town’s boardwalk connects to the Atlantic City Boardwalk, where you certainly will find those sorts of businesses—but the two towns are markedly different.
Interestingly, Atlantic City itself led to Close’s next mistake.
At one point in “The Smart One,” the family decides to head to Atlantic City to hit one of the casinos. Since Ventnor and A.C. border each other, this seemed reasonable. There were many, many nights I visited A.C. when I lived in Ventnor.
Close, however, writes that the family chose its trip to the Trump Taj Mahal because it was literally the only casino they knew. But that’s ridiculous. If the family had actually owned a Ventnor shore house for 30 years, as described in the book, it’s simply impossible that they wouldn’t be aware of a single other casino.
1. There are literally dozens of casino billboards located up and down the Atlantic City Expressway, the main route to and from the Atlantic City area for anyone traveling from Philadelphia, where the family in the book lived. It’s just not feasible that every last family member would have failed to see even one such billboard.
2. What’s more, if you’re standing on the boardwalk or at the beach in Ventnor, you can actually see about eight of the Atlantic City casinos, which, again, are only about a mile away.
I realize, of course, that this sort of thing might not be that big of a deal to other readers. But Close’s mistakes were distracting, and as a result, essentially ruined the rest of the book for me. If Close hadn’t actually named the town—if she’d just written that the family vacationed at a nondescript place on the Jersey Shore—I wouldn’t have even been bothered by it.
But I lived there. She got the facts wrong about a placed I called home, and the picture at the top of this post proves it. I took that shot recently, while standing on the Ventnor Boardwalk. No shops on that boardwalk. The buildings in the foreground are apartments. And the buildings in the background to the right, with all the lights on them? Those are the casinos.
If authors are going to use actual places in their work, they really should know enough about them—either through first-hand experience or research—to make their writing at least somewhat digestible.
What are your thoughts?