By Jincy Willett
This short story collection was published in 1987 and reprinted in 2002 with a foreword by David Sedaris, who first discovered JATHJOL in the New Fiction section of the Chicago Public Library. The stories left a profound impression on the young Sedaris, 'a voracious reader then, a student shoplifting for a voice…'
Willett’s stories have also been described as ‘wonderfully funny’. Sadly, however, I personally found the majority of them not very amusing nor impressionable. After writing this review 3 months after reading them, I find I can’t recall what most of them were about. It also didn't help that I've been forcing myself to finish this book since early last year.
I find Willett’s expository writing style very bland and kind of boring. There is very little dialogue, external or internal, and she has a tendency to employ the 3rd person, which results in a fairy tale-like narratives about unconventional, complex people living ordinary lives. But this also has the adverse effect of creating a greater distance for the reader, at least for this one.
Out of the dozen or so stories, I found the following few worthwhile:
“The Haunting of the Lingards” -- How a married couple of differing personalities and beliefs get along with each other.
“Melinda Falling” -- How a man loves an extremely accident-prone woman, who grows to a ripe old age, but nevertheless still rails at God.
“Justine Laughs At Death” – a clever one about Evil personified as an immortal serial killer, a kind of Jack the Ripper in the 20th c. who picks his victims out of a list in his black book. Over the course of many nights, he gets phone calls from various females, young and old, who seem impervious to his cruel and wicked banter. In a fit of rage he calls the phone company and a rep named Justine answers. She turns out to be the representative of all his past victims and is Vengeance, Justice, Revenge, and Woman rolled into a convenient package. Sadly, the story ends rather anti-climactically.
The best story, the funniest and most memorable, is “The Best of Betty”, written entirely in the format of an advice column.
And there you go, a review to quickly get it over with. Next!