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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John Jodzio’s collection of stories has a blurb on the back from Chuck Klosterman, to the effect of how “You may think you’ve read enough stories about penniless gay clowns who can’t get over the loss of a dog, but...,” and while this stabs a fork at the eclectic outlandishness of these tales, the comic conceit here always turns back toward something else, and all the harassed clowns, golf trap bog bodies, and barnacles attaching themselves to human asses are attempts, by Jodzio, to grasp something about the end of childhood, about the slow agony of growing up. From drunken, violent Make-a-Wish fishing trips to the simple pleasure of sucking nitrous from cans of Reddi Whip, the scenes of childhood, in Jodzio’s world, convey both awkwardness and hope, pushed forward by a kind of blind courage and an inchoate fear. Childhood is the desire to dive into a lake thick with heron feces or the longing to quit your job pretending to be the long-dead son of a neighbor lady, a job at which you shovel sherbet into your mouth and flip through a family photo album. Some childhoods end with a bang, some with the whisper of butterflies ascending. And, of course, some childhoods continue, or at least echo onward, on into the sordid gossip of the teacher’s lounge, through the moments of unexpected sex with a paralytic spouse.
Rimbaud said that genius was the rediscovery of childhood at will, which was all very nice for Rimbaud, who also occasionally moved back in with his mother. For most of us, however—and Jodzio’s characters foremost—the rediscovery of childhood comes as anxiety, impotence. Childhood recurs with the anxious realization of just how much random strangers physically resemble our parents, or in the ongoing impossibility of communication, as in the case of the woman who, before being told that she may well have syphilis and at the very least should get herself checked out at the clinic, and soon, takes her fingernails and writes on “new lover’s back. He was supposed to guess the words I’d written there, but he was not very good at this game. I wrote ‘enchanted’ and he guessed ‘extradited.’ I wrote the word ‘forever,’ but he guessed ‘foreskin.’”
Childhood here is the egg that will never hatch, the secret curled up in the truck of a car, that moment of almost already knowing better but deciding to do the thing anyway, as when one narrator here says:
There are some things you should not do in the rich town up the mountains from yours and one of those is sticking your dick in their mail slots or dog doors and moving it around and thrusting your hips in and out and sometimes urinating, but sometimes not, depending on how you feel and what kind of rug they have and honestly, whether or not you have to piss, but this, this is precisely what my little brother Carl and I started doing one Saturday morning after our baseball season ended.