If You Lived Here You'd Already Be Home
 by John Jodzio

Replacement Press 2010
First collection

John Jodzio is a winner of the Loft-McKnight Fellowship. His stories have appeared in One Story, Opium, The Florida Review and Rake Magazine and a number of other places, both print and online. He’s won a Minnesota Magazine fiction prize and both the Opium 500 Word Memoir competition and Opium Fiction Prize.

Read an interview with John Jodzio

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"I get paid eight dollars an hour to pretend I am Vincent, Mrs Ramon's dead son."

Reviewed Stefani Nellen

I could pick out almost any sentence from this book and it would be precise, complete, surprising, with that "Yes! This is exactly what it's like!" quality about it, followed by a moment of intrigue: "Wait...Tell me more." Examples, randomly selected? "Dr. Molina is a milder-looking Antonio Banderas, shorter pony tail, wider nose, millimeters from gorgeous." (Flight Path) "Another Saturday, a couple of weeks after the parrot, a man named Karpus showed up wanting to connect a pair of hawk's wings to his cat." (Whiskers) "Our baby swallowed a ninja star and then it swallowed a Bakelite button." (Inventory) Gems like these flow into each other apparently effortlessly, giving the book an elegant, silvery feel. Each sentence is polished, yet none – or hardly any – come across as desperately "hooky" or attention grabbing. This book should have a sticker on the cover: "Lovers of Poignancy and Odd Details are guaranteed to enjoy this."

So it's well written. But it's more interesting than that. While the language wasted no time in pleasing me, I struggled a bit longer in coming to terms with the content. It seems to me that the stories behave like origami patterns unfolding: they start out as two-dimensional triangle-patterns but turn out to be another thing, and another, and another.  

Take the story Flight Path, for example. On the surface, it's an odd tale told by a mental patient who is attracted to a comatose man.  Many familiar ingredients appear: the self-destructive fellow-patient and the rest of the supporting cast, the nicotine-patches-trading nurse, the group-therapy sessions, the vaguely hopeful open ending. Then the unfolding starts, since this is a long story that takes time to explore itself fully, and the familiar parameters disappear while the world of the story becomes real and immersive. At first, the sadness and defiance breaks through, not scripted but completely unexpected and real, like the sudden nicotine-induced euphoria of Trudy, "one of the girls":
"We all stood around and admired her as she strutted down the hall at breakneck speed. She was using the hall as a catwalk and she couldn't stop talking – blabbing on about her old boyfriend, about her hometown, about how she used to go to the beach all the time and wore a real bikini, not a fake one made of nicotine patches. [...]

'I thought that my heart was going to explode,' she told Dr. Molina. 'I was so damn excited about being alive. Who feels like that anymore? You tell me who'."
But the great strength of this story, its greatest reward (this actually goes for most stories in this collection), is that it ultimately captures the humanity of the characters instead of using them as quirky freaks. There are no straw men or cue-givers; even fringe characters like the above-mentioned Dr. Molina are brought to life with very few impeccably precise descriptions: "Behind his desk, mounted on the wall above his head, are framed pictures of him in action – running a marathon in Hawaii, milking a cow in India."

This casual ability to identify the inevitably most interesting and telling detail, arriving at minimalist descriptions that never feel insufficient, is what I like about John Jodzio's writing.

The information in most stories is very dense and satisfying. When I think back on my favorite stories in this book, I get a sense that they consist of layers and layers of details – Lily's bedroom in the title story, the lover's tattoo in Alejandra, Rosarita putting a magnet to her steel rod- supported shin in The Egg, the fake baby in Homecoming – that are piled on top of each other until the stories become as rich and un-summarize-able as reality.

For this reason, the longer stories in this book are, to me, the most satisfying stories. As I said before, they keep unfolding in unexpected ways that never become tedious. Whiskers, which, like a couple of stories features a character compulsively eating inedible objects, starts out as a darkly surreal tale and, convincingly transcending the bizarre, ends up as an "Aww!"-inducing feel-good story. (I know this is vague, but I'm not going to spoil it. Read the book!) And the mechanism behind these transformations seems to be not compulsory plot twisting or word play or great dramatic scenes, but simple descriptions – as if the stories were being pulled along by a world that had already existed, and that is only being chronicled by the writer, instead of painstakingly imagined.

However, not all stories in this collection are equally successful. The book has been plumped up with some shorter pieces that didn't lave a lasting impression and that felt more distracting than anything else. That doesn't mean they're bad. Pieces like Mail Game, Vessels, Shoo, Shoo or The Dojo would probably pleased me a lot, had I read them when they first appeared (mostly online), but here they lose their lustre in comparison with their longer, more daring companion pieces. They feel too written and, at times, gimicky. Inventory, with its item-swallowing baby, reads like an exploration of the "compulsory eating of inedible things" theme that makes a more effective appearance in several longer stories, where it is treated as more than a weird idea.

Everyone Prank Calls the Clown ends too early, I think, without exploring its interesting premise, and the too-whimsical Kallispell doesn’t fit in with the rest of the book. And Gravity, after starting out extremely grim, makes a sudden U-turn towards love and understanding that I couldn't quite buy into.

But with all being said and done, I liked reading this book. A lot. At its best, it had me turn the pages with that small smile of the happy reader: bewildered, engrossed, and blissfully unable to predict what would happen next.

Win a copy of this book! See the Competitions page for details.

Read a story from this collection in Minnesota Magazine and watch the book trailer

Stefani Nellen lives and writes in the Netherlands. Her short stories have been published in Cosmos, Inkwell, Quarter After Eight, Apex Digest, Best of the Web 2008 & 2010 and Web Conjunctions, among other places. She's a graduate of the 2008 Clarion workshop at San Diego.  She's at work on a novel and a short story collection that are dealing with the sport of running and the (non-)randomness of the mind.

Stefani's other Short Reviews: Claudia Smith "The Sky is A Well"

Heather Beck "10 Journeys Through the Unknown"

Mary Anne Mohanraj "Bodies in Motion"

John Joseph Adams (ed) "Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse"

"Best Gay Romance 2009"

Geoff Ryman (ed) "When it Changed: Science Into Fiction"
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What other reviewers thought:

The Millions

The Minnesota Daily

Small Press Reviews