If you’re looking for that rare form of narrative nonfiction with a story that leaves you feeling gobsmacked and bit disoriented – much like the Cannonball Loop at Action Park – look no further than this memoir/personal history of the most infamous amusement park . . . ever?
Action Park, built around a mountain in the small town of Vernon, New Jersey, is the stuff of legend. And unlike most legends, the more you look into it, the more the legend seems to be the truth. It was born from the brain of Gene Mulvihill, a financier who, on a whim, acquired a ski resort in the 1970s and then wanted to monetize it on the off season.
His first idea: installing the Alpine Slide – concrete and asbestos tubes installed into the side of the mountain, accessible by ski lift, and navigated by a rudimentary sled on wheels with a brake. No elbow pads or helmets necessary, no protection from nature if you flew out of the tube by making an unwise “driving” decision – apart from some hay bales along the route.
The rest of the park proceeded along the same lines as it grew, adding small racecars that could go up to 50 mph (and faster if the governor was removed), mini speedboats that turned into water bumper cars, water slides of such velocity they stripped patrons of their swimsuits, and a wave pool that was literally lethal.
Who better than one of Gene’s sons, Andy Mulvihill, to tell the full story of the park, in all its manic iterations? (Though I’m sure the families of the people who died at the park might want a more objective narrator.)
With the caveat that, like most personal histories, this one is not objective, this is still one of the most comprehensive looks at Action Park you can find, sourced not just from Andy’s memories but from interviews with former employees and friends, with the help of co-writer Rossen, who helps boost the flow of the narrative and its conversational, propulsive tone.
Whether you’ve watched all the films based on the park and delved deep into the footnotes of its Wikipedia entry, or have never heard of the place before, you’ll find this book to be both thrilling and mystifying.
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