by Marcel Jolley
Black Lawrence Press
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.
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.
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.
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.
|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.