The novelist Lauren Grodstein likes what she sees around here.
"The landscape of South Jersey," she tells my Inquirer colleague Jon Lai, is "sort of beautiful."
"Sort of beautiful" is so absolutely sort of perfect that I am inspired to email Grodstein, whose latest novel, The Explanation for Everything, is set in South Jersey.
I'm in traffic when she calls back, but I immediately pull into a nearby shopping center so we can dish. Turns out that Grodstein, who teaches at Rutgers-Camden and lives in Moorestown, is, like me, a transplant - she's from County Bergen in North Jersey and I'm from County Berkshire, in western Massachusetts.
South Jersey "is a magnificent place to write about," she says, noting the region's blur of suburbs and small towns contains, on closer view, communities with idiosyncratic distinctions. "It makes for great literature, especially if you're writing about suburban families and the striving class," she says.
"Then there's the geographical landscape, which I think is pretty great. The Pine Barrens are spooky and beautiful and weird. There are lovely little Quaker villages, and you can be in Trenton, and in the time it takes to pass a gas station and a McDonald's, you can be somewhere in the middle of what looks like ... Vermont."
"Ok, let's get real, South Jersey isn't the French countryside," Grodstein laughs. "But it's surprising and it's beautiful and just as a resident, I'm much happier living here than I was in Bergen County. Maybe because I'm not a teenager."