Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008) and the forthcoming critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2010). An instructor at Loyola University, Chicago, Dew also reviews books for Rain Taxi Review of Books and art for Newcity Chicago. His Web site is spencerdew.com.
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In this collection of “poems, fables, and scrolls,” objects appear, like the tugboat that one day hovers above the trees of a village and which the people of the village treat as chance at salvation, climbing up to it, hoping to escape the world as it is. Blood follows, mutilation and death, then an octopus, life jackets. As Jones writes, navigating this tiny story around a rhetorical bend, “It’s always that way. Me coming to save you. An octopus helping. Tugboat in the trees.”
The dreamy significance of these objects—like the interchangeable villages and woods—are part of the book’s fabulist project. The same objects appear again and again, a repertoire culled from the familiar register of fairy tales as well as that of everyday life: wolves and bicycles, axes and SUVs, a circle of knives around a baby and a yellow tornado standing up around a bathtub. Instead of a red hood, these characters wear red hooded sweatshirts; instead of being rescued by a woodsman, these characters tend to look down and realize their stomachs are “a bucket of red meat.”
Yet despite the random teeth peppering the treetops of these stories, the best ones have a confectionary quality—you want to keep eating them. In part, the motivation here is linked to the second person address: most of these pieces speak directly to a “you” for whom all these objects have an even greater, more urgent if more enigmatic, significance. And even if the appearance of these objects generally signals a plunge into terror, Jones has a way of hooking us. Who can find a cage on their bed and not investigate further? Who thinks to protect their tender parts from a tiny sheriff’s spurs?
Consider the narrator who speaks of what happens “when you’re sleeping.” “I’m in love with trying to love you,” this narrator says, but, as with his fellow narrators, the voice laced with longing can shift quick as a straight razor. “I wave my ambulance hands in front of your face,” we are told, and the image morphs into red nightmare.
The short pieces collected here generally depend upon such a turn, and while the structure soon becomes rote, the ending themselves keep surprising because of the phrases Jones pulls from his tattered top hat. Such addictively disquieting slip-knots of imagery (a statue of yourself holding out a mirror to gage your own reaction, for instance) are the hallmark of this book and will motivate readers to keep dreaming through its dark woods.
Official Shane Jones Web Site
Official Scrambler Books Web Site