A terrific review of JONAH MAN in the Kenyon Review. Thank you Theodore Wheeler!
A terrific review of JONAH MAN in the Kenyon Review. Thank you Theodore Wheeler!
A new and very nice review of Jonah Man is up at The Rumpus: “I put my faith in Narozny’s work. It is controlled and deliberate, and the ride is beautiful. Why not read a new author? Why not read Jonah Man?”
The Huffington Post mentioned Jonah Man on its list of 10 summer noir reads!
Andrew Cotto: Dark Reads for Your Bright Summer Day http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrew-cotto/dark-reads-for-your-brigh_b_1671289.html#s1221887&title=Jonah_Man_
I’m interviewed by Brad Listi for the wonderful Other People Podcast. Just because I hate the sound of my own voice doesn’t mean you have to!
I’m reading twice in MA this weeks: 7/11 in Shelburne Falls, and 7/13 in Cambridge. I’ve posted the details on the Appearances page. Hope to see you there!
Softcover $15.95 (227pp)
The novel opens with Swain, a one-armed juggler, watching from the wings of a theater as Jonson and his boy dance atop wooden barrels. They are all performers on a small-town vaudeville circuit where a runaway donkey has been known to shut down the show.
Jonah Man is a vaudeville term for a performer who has stalled in his career. Swain has made a Faustian bargain that includes self-mutilation and drug trafficking to prolong his time in front of the calcium lights.
He’s warned by Jonson—or threatened—that he’s done and should abandon his dual careers while he still can. Like Swain, Jonson is supplying vials of silver-blue liquid to clients along the circuit and using the drug himself. Is Jonson trying to rid himself of competition—or does he really have a message for Swain?
Swain knows Jonson as an abusive drunk who exploits the weaknesses of others. He also knows that Jonson’s boy is a prodigy, “a hytone note on a bill of hokum,” eager for an opportunity at the big time. When a murder occurs, the question for the reader is not who did it, but who will manage to leave the town alive.
This lean, tightly constructed novel may incorporate the language of vaudeville, but it portrays a dark underworld of life in the West during the early part of the twentieth century. It is narrated in turn by four characters: Swain, Jonson, Jonson’s boy, and the Inspector, whose own ambition causes him to make errors that endanger the others.
This strong first novel deserves a wide audience. It’s the story of men whose ambition outran their talent, and of the boy who seized his chance.
(May) KAREN ACKLAND
The title of this distinctive first novel is an expression that refers to a performer who, despite great effort, reaches the inevitable dwindling down of his career. The good news is Narozny’s fascinating glimpse into vaudeville in 1920s America does anything but stagnate. Told from the perspectives of a one-handed juggler whose prospects have gone south, a teenage boy with a talent for stealing the show, his wheeler-dealer dad who boozes and canoodles, and a police inspector with close tabs on them all, the narrative traces the gritty life on the show circuit, one schmaltzy act after another. But beneath all the fake glitz and glamour, there’s another story to tell: both the juggler and the drunk are addicted to an incandescent silver-blue substance, selling it to susceptible patrons on the side and skimming off their stash. All the characters are three-dimensional, each with a hidden soft spot that others unfortunately find opportunities to exploit. When the boy’s drunk dad is found murdered with a prostitute, her “wig crumpled blonde and bloody beside them,” and the cop investigates, there’s motive around every corner. A classic whodunit ripe with spare, snappy prose and riddled with period language, this is one show-stopper that deserves a standing ovation. Agent: Peter McGuigan, Foundry Literary + Media. (May)
Halfway through your life you decide that you’re no longer you: not figuratively, but literally. Your brother, your wife, your mistress all confront you with what they believe to be shared memories, but you emphatically shake your head and insist that they’ve confused you with someone else. This is likely a fantasy we’ve all entertained to one degree or another, but Herr Stiller, anti-hero of Max Frisch’s I’m Not Stiller (the title gives the plot away), acts upon it: sorry, I’m not your brother, not your husband, not your lover–I would apologize for the many wrongs this man has done you, but how can I pretend to be someone I’m not? It sounds like a great idea, but the fantasy turns ugly when the Swiss judicial system forces poor Stiller to relive–through eye-witness accounts, no less–his life thus far.
The pleasure of Stiller comes in large part from watching the first-person narrator consider his life as though he’s only just learned of it second hand: “Any reasonably experienced man–which Stiller obviously was not–would immediately have recognized in this fascinating little person (his wife) a case of extreme frigidity”; “This behavior was something Julika has not forgotten to this day, the expression of an unrestrained egocentricity, as I fully agree, on the part of the missing man.” [Italics mine.] The replacement biography Stiller has invented–as Jim White, he committed murders in the Mexican desert and stole other men’s wives–is no less pleasurable, but what ultimately distinguishes this novel from other first-person mid-century fiction is the fact that its narrator appears sane–conflicted, obsessive, and cowed by the prospect of who he can’t help but be–but sane nonetheless. His decision to preference invention over experience is a calculated one based on an unsparingly accurate self-diagnosis. This is where the novel’s realism emerges with great and gritty force: what Stiller hopes to extricate himself from by becoming Jim White is nothing short of human relationship, not just a relationship (though his marriage does sit front and center), but all of it, from the largest to the most insignificant betrayals and acts of cowardice. The great irony is that the attempt to turn away ultimately forces him to take a long, hard look.
People often talk about Man in the Holocene as Frisch’s “tour de force”, but I’m Not Stiller, along with Gantenbein and Homo Faber, ought to be included in any “great-novels-of-the-20th-century” discussion.
“What else? You haven’t even started yet. Go on,” my father used to say to me and my siblings when we were children, when we were young.
In Javier Marias’ Your Face Tomorrow trilogy, this paternal advice doubles as narrative strategy and moral imperative. Protagonist and narrator Jaime Deza spends most the trilogy’s thousand-plus pages thinking, but unlike many (most?) first-person narrators of the 20th and early 21st centuries, very little of his interior monologue focuses on himself (or on the self). Instead, Marias, through Deza, models, in an often imperfect and very human way, “the courage to look hard and to translate and to think beyond the necessary,” a value instilled in him by his father and by a former professor, both of whom lived through World War II and the Spanish Civil War. At their core, the novels are most concerned with history and legacy: what can we (must we?) learn from the people who managed to live through a time of chaos and slaughter–a time when humanity at large seemed to have derailed–with integrity and, most importantly, intelligence? In radically compressed form, the lesson is this: think. Think, and then speak. The problem, Deza tells us in the final volume, is that “because we hate certainty, no one dares any more to say or to acknowledge that they see what they see, what is quite simply there, perhaps unspoken or almost unsaid, but nevertheless there… no one wants to know, and the idea of knowing something beforehand, well, it simply fills people with horror, with a kind of biographical, moral horror.”
As with most writers of Marias’ ilk, there’s a bit of snark in the narration (Has anyone else noticed just how many of Nabokov’s novels feature an overreaching middle-class character who speaks French very badly? Well, there’s some of that here.), but this is more than counterbalanced by the genuine and often downright touching affection the narrator feels toward two characters in particular: his father and his former professor. In the acknowledgements, Marias writes: “Separate mention must be made of my father, Julián Marias, and Sir Peter Russell, who was born Peter Wheeler, without whose borrowed lives this book would not have existed. May they both rest now, in the fiction of these pages as well.” The trilogy is, on one important level, a remarkably loving and measured attempt to keep the best of a previous generation alive.