You Only Get Letters From Jail
Author: Jodi Angel
Publisher: Tin House Books
Number of pages: 286
My love affair with Jodi Angel’s writing start about 3 years ago now, I had to get a copy of her first collection (read the review here) for the Tomales Bay Writer’s Conference because I was going to be in her fiction class. My friend, Sarah, was a huge fan of hers and could not have been more jealous that I was going to be in the class, which made me reluctant to read the book because so much build-up can only disappoint. Well, I was wrong in making such an absurd assumption. The first collection blew me away, I had never read such raw and real short fiction, and so many (well written) stories in one book was a short fiction reader’s paradise.
It was at that conference that I became witness to the conception of “You Only Get Letters From Jail”. Jodi read “A Good Deuce” in front of one of the largest crowds of the weekend, read a version of the story that she had the audacity to write en route to said conference, a story that she had not even edited. Rob Spillman (Editor of Tin House) was present at the reading and walked up to Jodi afterward and offered to publish her story on the spot, she just needed to write ten more pieces for a collection.
My point in that intro is twofold; one, I have been waiting almost three years for this collection to be printed and two, I know Jodi personally and this is my disclaimer of that fact.
The first story, the aforementioned “A Good Deuce”, serves as an appetizer to what follows. It resonates with the angst of youth that is so masterfully written in “The History of Vegas” that I could not help but be transported back to that muggy October weekend on the California coast where a bottle of whisky served as refreshment and Jodi’s writing my companion; well more accurately, her characters kept me company.
That is what first struck me after starting “Cash or Trade”, the second story in the collection; these aren’t the same characters, there was something “different” about them, something that it took me some time to identify. Sure, they were young kids still, dealing with a variety of family and/or emotional problems, but they didn’t seem as…tragic. The angst that filled the core of earlier characters was absent, replaced by a maturity that I had never missed before. Now that the maturity was there though, now that these characters had grown up they seemed more real than they ever had.
Don’t misunderstand me, these aren’t continuations of the stories in “The History of Vegas”, Jodi doesn’t write a story with an ending, I do not imagine she would write one that picked up where another left off or have a character carry over into another one’s tale. It is just the way that she writes, the life she breathes into her “people” that makes me refer to them the way that I do. This collection is very unique because every story features a male protagonist, written with such clarity that you question the gender of the author or the complexity (or simplicity) of being a male.
Jodi continues to amaze me, and will you, with her stories, even as her writing has “matured” and gotten away from some of the themes of her earlier collection (drugs, running from cops, sex), she creates settings that are alive, that have such depth that they battle with the people for attention. From a grandfather clock without a face to a patchwork quilt tightly wrapped around a young boy, if a writer needs concrete items to make a reader feel reality in the words, Jodi writes in hyper-reality.
In a book filled with muscle cars, drinking, abuse and death, Jodi Angel brings to life the youth of middle America, gives a voice to Opie Taylors that were unfortunate enough to not be born in Mayberry. This book should be dedicated to every high school nympho going down on men in the walk-in, every unnamed blonde floating face down in a hidden pond, to every cut-off wearing bombshell taking Corvettes off of used car lots.
Now we just have to wait for the novel to come out**.
* An extra .1 just for Kiefer
**Though I am still waiting for some poetry I was promised two years ago.