Neither Here
Nor There
 by Marcel Jolley

Black Lawrence Press
2007, Paperback
First collection

Winner:  Inaugural
St Lawrence
Book Award

"She is still laughing, though, especially when an errant leaf perches in her hair, just below her left ear. The wind picks up her hair just enough and then lays it back down. The leaf remains, and I want it to stay there indefinitely. A last few chuckles jump through Kristen as she wipes the dust from her shining eyes and instinctively reaches up for the leaf. In the end, though, she lowers her hand and lets the leaf remain right where the wind put it."

Reviewed by Carol Reid

Do not do as I did, do as I say! The opening scene of the novella Neither Here Nor There struck me as so casually and unnecessarily cruel that I set this collection aside for a very long time. This was my mistake and my loss, until I resolved to pick it up again and discovered these oddly poignant, beautifully paced stories which take place in my own very familiar backyard, the Pacific Northwest.

The part of North here is played by Alaska, often specifically Juneau. You can’t get there from anywhere without a lot of trouble, a long ferry ride or a jaunt in a plane, if you’re lucky, and yet the magnetic pull of the place exerts its influence again and again. West is the equally isolated coast of British Columbia and occasionally Washington State, which, while "Outside", never really provides an effective spiritual escape or secure toehold for the restless characters in these stories.

Marcel Jolley has captured the longing that keeps the unsettled spirit looking out to a dark sea, a rough tundra, a short gravel road that leads nowhere. The contentment promised by a settled life is a carrot hung just out of reach, despite his characters’ sometimes deluded and sometimes dogged efforts to settle down.

Duane DeMarco, the barroom guitarist in Rivets, has tried to drown his instrument before, in an attempt to punish and kill the music’s hold on him so he can go for the real job at Boeing offered him eight years ago. The first victim had been a beautiful Martin acoustic tossed into the waters off Ketchikan. Now, on the dock near the latest bar in Port Hardy, British Columbia, "His second cigarette found Duane wondering if his Squire Telecaster would float. The Echo Pro machine sure as hell wouldn’t, though with its weight and bulky stand he might need Steve’s help hoisting the multi-talented monster over the rail."

Duane holds a transcendent moment in his heart, from a night in Skagway when a little hippie girl "...waltzed in  during his electric set at the Red Onion and asked if he knew 'Return of the Grievous Angel'. He said he did, and damned if she didn’t nail every one of Emmylou’s harmonies over his attempts at Gram’s parts.... He never saw her again...."

There are tiny match-flames like this one in many of these stories, just enough light to hope by.

We who live in the northwest have little history. We build our houses out of sticks, and our lives are often blown apart by rain and wind. So, like the narrator of the delightful Archenemy we make ourselves more than what we are with stories.
"Combine this heritage with a 2.7 undergrad GPA and half a master’s degree from a state university and my milquetoast normalcy only solidifies. I do have something, though, to set me apart from most people, an ace up my sleeve. I have an archenemy."

Anyone living in the shadow of the cool will find much to celebrate in this wry, scornful and ultimately self-validating piece. Jolley’s gift is to infuse his characters with a quality at once more substantial and lighter than the Pacific Northwest air, so that their small, precious dreams float and fly.

Read a story from this collection on Black Lawrence Press

Carol Reid has recently become a technical writer (they pay you for that!) but her first love is short stories. Most recently published in Matrix, echolocation, Blue Crow and upcoming in Quay. She is a contributing editor to Emprise Review.

Carol's other Short Reviews: "Crimini: The Bitter Lemon Book of Italian Crime Fiction"

"Passport to Crime: The Finest Mystery Stories from International Writers"

Richard Matheson "Button, Button: Uncanny Stories"

Andrew Porter "The Theory of Light and Matter"

Fran Friel "Mama's Boy and Other Dark Tales"

Kathy Page "As In Music"

Christopher Fowler "Old Devil Moon"

"Home of the Brave" edited by Jeffery Hess

Tom Lee "Greenfly"

Jack Swenson "Hello Walls"

Ron McLean "Why the Long Face?"
find something to read: reviews
find something to read: interviews
find something to read: categories
find something to read: back issues
competitions & giveaways

Marcel Jolley was born and raised in Skagway, Alaska and now lives in Camas, Washington with his wife and son. His collection of short stories, Neither Here Nor There, won the inaugural St. Lawrence Book Award and was published in 2007.  Black Lawrence Press will release his second short story collection, Priors, in the spring of 2012, to be followed by his novella, Milk Run, in the spring of  2013.

Read an interview with Marcel Jolley