by Jack Swenson
Balder Press (lulu.com)
First collection? No
Jack Swenson was born with a pencil in his
hand. He has been scribbling one thing or another for many years. He
in Fremont, CA, where he also teaches a writing class at the local
Senior Center. His age is a secret, but he is no spring chicken. His
stories have appeared in many literary journals such as Wigleaf, Ghoti, Boston Literary
Magazine, Camroc Press Review, Grey Sparrow, and Staccato. Many
other story collections by Jack Swenson, including Tiny Bubbles and Just a Doll are
available through lulu.com
with Jack Swenson
"My wife went into our
den, sat down, put her feet up, and hid behind the newspaper. I sat
down on the couch across from her. You should quit, I said. If I could
do it, so can you.
She put down the newspaper and looked me
in the eye. I'm a married woman, she said. I have no desire to live."
Reviewed by Carol Reid
As author Jack Swenson says in his introduction to Hello Walls, this is
a big fat book of very short stories. Dipping into this collection is
much like being slipped the key to an old friend's diary. Characters
appear and re-appear, slightly altered, or repeat themselves in
slightly altered circumstances. In this assemblage of events, a
narrative accumulates rather than develops. Swenson's people stumble
around and make do, make mistakes, and make a mess that takes a
lifetime to set in order. Once in a while they are granted fleeting
moments of serenity.
These stories are touchstones—pebbles tossed into a pond of shared
experience. There is no substitute for the authenticity of a long and
rowdy life recollected with clarity and compassion. Swenson is the kind
of storyteller you want in the seat beside you on a long bus ride or
with you for the long haul in the waiting room before you get the
A number of stories relate the misadventures of a group of drinking
buddies and strike a perfect balance between an awareness of their
weaknesses and absurdity, and appreciation of the deep bonds of
"I sat down on one of the love seats flanking the
and looked into the fire. I thought I saw my future there. Heat
and light. Fame and fortune. Somebody behind me barked
When I was a kid I learned that you pay for your sins.
Even if you were good, it didn't matter, because you were
somehow responsible for things that went back generations.
Evil deeds. Sins of omission or commission.
My friend Harpo was passed out on the floor. Somebody
had propped him up, put a bucket on his head, and with a
wooden spoon was tapping out the beat of a jazz tune that
was playing on the stereo."Others deal with love and lust, marriage and separation. One of the
least romantic and most memorable of these is Mona:
"She's young, I said weakly.
Very, Doc said.
That evening I picked Mona up at her parents' house and
drove her to her dormitory at the state university in San
Francisco, as I did every Sunday. I've been thinking, Mona
said as she got out of the car. Maybe I'll have the baby after all.
We could name it Tom, Jr.
That would be nice, I said.
Mona laughed. Just kidding, she said. As she walked
away, she waved gaily and blew me a kiss."
Many of the most enjoyable and poignant pieces in this collection deal
with the reality of marriage, an institution with which the narrator
has certainly had a wealth of experience.
From Second Thoughts,
"The day arrives. We do the deed. The wedding is in her
sister's living room, and it is not a solemn affair. Just before I
say 'I do,' my brother-in-law-to-be whispers something nasty
into my ear, and I start laughing and can't stop.
Then the real fun begins. We sneak off to our motel, and
my bride spends the night in the bathroom. Then we drive to
Minnesota to meet my parents, and I know that will be
another disaster. They didn't want me to marry her in the first
place. I told them that she's only half Jewish, that her mother is
Catholic, but that just made it worse.
My Midwest friends won't like her, either. They'll think
she is a Goody Two Shoes, which she is. I think about leaving
her at a truck stop somewhere in Utah, but I don't. I don't
dare. She'd call her brothers, and they'd call somebody else,
and I'd spend my honeymoon in a wheelchair."And then there are the rehab stories, which thanks to this author's
particular skill give a feeling of both light and weight.
"A talk with a friend helped, too. His friend told him that
resentments were like canceled checks. You weren't going to
get your money back. Your money was in the other person's
In his mind's eye, he saw all his resentment fly out the
window like a flock of crows.
He told his sponsor about the miracle that forgiveness had
worked in his life. 'Uh-huh,' his sponsor said. He told the new man to keep
There is nothing soft, showy or sugar-coated about these stories.
Swenson's prose gets up in the morning, puts its trousers on one leg at
a time and carries on. And the reader follows, trusting these stories
to provide a path through the forest.
from this collection at Wigleaf