Sunday, June 01, 2008

Book 6 – Jenny & The Jaws of Life

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!

7 comments:

Crumbolst said...

Well, you finished it. Good job shlogging through it. And thanks for the warning!

Buzby said...

I appreciate the warning too. For some reason I am attracted to anything Sedaris writes or recommends and almost every time I come away thinking that the book just wasn't that good.

Olman Feelyus said...

This sounds like a case where a group of authors do a round-robin of promotional quotes for each other. I mean at some point, once you get to know some of these other authors, do radio shows with them, how can you refuse to do a quote for their book cover?

beemused said...

well, I do believe Sedaris was genuinely impressed by this book, which in its initial print received many positive reviews, but didn't sell very well. I guess in this way, what Sedaris does for reviving underappreciated authors is what Tarantino does for the movies.

as we all know, books, like movies and music, are highly subjective. willet's style for me is like listening to Sarah Maclachlan. Nice but generic and does absolutely nothing for me. whereas for someone else, the same work may stir up strong emotions, or even awe!

Jarrett said...

at sarah maclachlan quotes brings to mind a certain josh groban performance.

thanks again for the warning. I haven't read any sedaris yet, except for the first few pages of the one with the blue cover, and i get him confused with safran foer, but i might be tempted to buy this on that recommendation alone. but meezly trumps sedaris in the recommendation pecking order.

Lantzvillager said...

Nice review though. I often put a book down for several months and then force myself to come back to it. Sometime ya just gotta let go.

"This sounds like a case where a group of authors do a round-robin of promotional quotes for each other. I mean at some point, once you get to know some of these other authors, do radio shows with them, how can you refuse to do a quote for their book cover?"

You should check out this essay which speaks to exactly this point:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/17/books/review/Donadio-t.html?_r=1&ref=books&oref=slogin

caropops said...

As usual, meezlyblog has the most articulate and insightful point of view of any.

A small point, the word 'impressionable' is misused. Maybe you meant that it didn't leave an impression on you.