West Windsor and Plainsboro, New Jersey: Background information when reading Suburban Dicks

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Suburban Dicks

by Fabian Nicieza

Suburban Dicks by Fabian Nicieza X
Suburban Dicks by Fabian Nicieza
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2021, 400 pages

    Paperback:
    May 2022, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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About this Book

West Windsor and Plainsboro, New Jersey

This article relates to Suburban Dicks

Print Review

Schenck Farmstead in West Windsor As Fabian Nicieza comments in an author's note for Suburban Dicks, "fiction means it is not real." But that said, the two towns he uses as the setting for the novel—West Windsor and Plainsboro—are definitely real places. Let's take a trip to explore these suburban paradises, shall we?

The area where West Windsor and Plainsboro are located is the historical land of the Unami, a subtribe of the Lenape people. Dutch settlers arrived in the 1600s, soon to be followed by English colonists. West Windsor was first established in 1682 when William Penn signed a treaty with the Lenape; it changed names and boundaries many times between then and 1855, when its present-day borders were drawn. Plainsboro was not incorporated until 1919.

Both West Windsor and Plainsboro are now townships within the New York City metropolitan area (which includes New York City itself, Long Island and parts of New Jersey and Connecticut). West Windsor is slightly larger, with a population of around 27,000 in 2010, versus around 23,000 in Plainsboro. The two towns border each other, though they are in different counties, and they share a public high school.

West Windsor is an exceptionally affluent community, ranking as the 15th wealthiest neighborhood in the United States in 2008, according to an article in Forbes. But Plainsboro is no slouch, either, with a median family income of around $113,000. The median home listing price in West Windsor is currently over $600,000; in Plainsboro, it's around $480,000.

Both communities include a large number of residents who work or teach at neighboring Princeton University, though many residents (like Andrea's husband in Nicieza's novel) commute into New York City—about 90 minutes away—daily. The towns embrace artifacts of their agricultural past, like a robust farmers' market, while also serving as present-day bedroom communities for those working in the financial and tech sectors.

As Nicieza's novel suggests, the demographics of both towns are beginning to shift. In West Windsor, the percentage of inhabitants who identified as white declined from around 72 percent in 2000 to around 55 percent in 2010; the township identifies, as of 2010, as nearly 38 percent Asian—a fact that enters into the novel—but less than 4 percent Black. In Plainsboro, the 2010 census showed that nearly 30 percent of the town's population identifies specifically as Indian American. A 2015 New York Times article explored the self-imposed pressures on the school district's high-achieving students, and accompanying ethnic tensions coming to light amid the towns' rapidly changing populations.

Both townships have produced some notable residents, including actor Ethan Hawke (West Windsor), NFL player Gary Jeter (Plainsboro) and numerous other luminaries in sports. As Nicieza mentions in his novel, the area is perhaps most memorably referenced in the context of Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" radio play, which made people think that Martians had really landed in Grovers Mill, a community located within West Windsor. Today, you can find a roadside monument commemorating the fictional alien landing there.

If you visit these neighboring townships in suburban New Jersey, you might not find murder, scandal or a former FBI protégé in search of her next case; but you will find a case study in an area's rapidly shifting demographics and how it's changing the face of what suburbia looks like.

The Schenck Farmstead in West Windsor, New Jersey, which dates to c.1790, and houses the West Windsor History Museum and the headquarters of the Historical Society of West Windsor. Photo by Paulligeti (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Filed under Places, Cultures & Identities

Article by Norah Piehl

This "beyond the book article" relates to Suburban Dicks. It originally ran in August 2021 and has been updated for the May 2022 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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