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The Cusp of Something

Jai Clare

He licks his fingers and invites me to kiss Emily on each available patch; the moist touch of my lips makes her moan. Her flesh is firm. I like watching him take pleasure in such a tantalizing girl. She is so full of life. He says to her, “Beautiful Emily, just beautiful.” Then Emily struggles a little and cries out as I hold her down, as my man of shapes fucks her. "

Reviewed by Joel Willans

Jai Clare is something of a crusader against the world of mainstream publishing. Indeed on her blog, she says that the industry wouldn’t know originality if “it came and bit them in the bum.” It’s an interesting point of view and one borne out by her first collection, The Cusp of Something, published by Elastic Press. Clare is certainly an original writer and her book a challenging, yet ultimately worthwhile read. 

The collection, which contains twenty-five stories written over more than a decade, is an eclectic mix. Clare has a poet’s touch. Open any page and you will find yourself immersed in descriptions of great beauty and metaphors that amaze. In some of her stories, such Delaney Wears a Hat, Memory of Sky and A Song of Need, plot, character and theme are submerged by Clare's love of language. In fact, these stories resemble poetry more than prose. For the reader, their main problem is that they allow the experimental to become the unfathomable. As a consequence, the unspoken contract between reader and writer is left broken. 

Fortunately, most of Clare’s stories have strong characters, too. In Ramblista, we meet beautiful cousins eager to tell their life story. In Bone to Bones, we are introduced to a groupie with a taste in piano players, while the protagonist of A Man of Shapes is a rapist’s female accomplice. When Clare reverts to more traditional storytelling with protagonists that are challenged and changed, the result is usually a more satisfying read. 

Although the stories are set in different locations, the predominately female characters are often searching for the same thing, meaning in their lives. In The Ruins of Lutz and More Moments of Sheer Joy, this involves making a journey that is both spiritual and sexual. Female sexuality is constantly explored in Clare’s writing. Sex for the characters, like Gail in Mad Angels, changes from being a form of exploitation to a form of empowerment. By having women objectify men, rather than vice versa, Clare inverts gender roles and invites her reader to question their own attitudes. 

The Cusp of Something is a collection that should not be rushed. When read one after the other, Clare’s stories can overwhelm with their prose. Like going to a ballet, if you are too enthralled by the music, you risk losing interest in the dancers. The heavy reliance on internal rather than spoken dialogue can also slow the pace of her stories and, although interesting, her characters are sometimes difficult to relate to or fully understand. 

That said, this is a book that should be savoured. It’s colourful and often beautifully written, although by no means an easy read. This, presumably, is why it’s not to mainstream publishing’s taste. Doubtlessly, Jai Clare can write more commercially viable stories, but whether she would want to sacrifice her lyrical style is less obvious. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait another ten years to find out.

Joel Willans is a copywriter for a Helsinki ad agency. His fiction has appeared in many magazines including Bonfire, Pen Pusher, Brand, Southword and Penumbra, as well as several anthologies. In the last year, he achieved success in a dozen competitions and is currently on the shortlist for the Bristol Prize.


PublisherElastic Press

Publication Date: 2007

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First collection?Yes

Author bio: Jai Clarewas born in South Africa, brought up in southwest England and now lives in London. She has been published in The London Magazine, Agni, The Barcelona Review, Bonfire, Nemonymous, Pedestal Magazine, and Night Train, amongst others. 

Read an interview with Jai Clare

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