Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Review: This Jealous Earth

Read 12/19/22 - 12/22/12
5 Stars - Highly Recommend / The Next Best Book
Pgs: 192
Publisher MG Press
Releases: Jan 2013

If the quality of literature being published in any given year can be judged by the first book we read, watch out world, because 2013 has incredible things in store for us.

Not only does This Jealous Earth - an amazing collection of short stories by Scott Dominic Carpenter - set the literary bar high for the new year, it also has the honor of ushering in the birth of a new publishing company. MG Press, an extension of Midwestern Gothic, plans to focus specifically on books and authors that are representatives of the Midwest, highlighting the regions mythologies, stories, and culture.

The stories contained within this book, which are broken out into three untitled sections, each exhibit the awkwardly tense and somewhat humorous ways in which we humans experience the world. They also highlight the many ways in which we manage to fuck up even the simplest of situations.

Carpenter kicks it all off with "The Tender Knife", the sweet and squirmy story of a man who is forced to reduce his Koi population. Having grown strangely attached to each and every one of them, he struggles through the process of choosing which ones will go and what humane method he will use. Of course, neither knife nor fish cooperate, and the reader is left to cringe and moan on the sidelines as the torturous story draws to a close.

Not to be outdone in the cruelty-to-animals department, we find ourselves fearing for the safety of four-legged Patch in "The Spirit of the Dog". It's a tale of how quickly the male testosterone-laced ego can turn nasty when it tires of taking orders from a woman and how one weak decision can leave you weighed down by guilt for a lifetime.

In the title story, we pace back and forth as a family threatens to bores us with their last minute preparations for the rapture. The god-fearing mother, vacuuming and straightening up the house while the father hovers in the background, the little sister worrying and fretting over the fate of her hamster while terrified of leaving her non-believing brother behind... until she discovers the one sure way to keep her family together forever.

"Sincerely Yours" contains a set of cutesy correspondences between a man and his power company's incompetent customer service reps. The narrator of "General Relativity" draws connections between a series of "twilight zone-like" events that align themselves with things he's recently read while the main character of "The Death Button" ponders the validity of a scientific experiment that is built around how often you think of the thing they hired you to think of.

Though Carpenter fluidly switches gender and perspectives throughout the collection,  I noticed a tendency for the female characters - whether in the background or the forefront of the story - to be the more dominate, more demanding of the bunch, the men often deferring to them. The wife demanding her husband to cull his beloved koi; the sister's constant belittling over the brother's need to search every box and open every drawer in their father's estate throughout "The Inheritance"; the bored housewife looking for a quick thrill in "Thrift"; the woman who convinced her stubborn husband to bring her to the museum in "Riddles", now left walking around the halls utterly lost and confused. The Eve-like twists I'm alluding to may be given more weight than the author intended but I couldn't help noticing the role the ladies appeared to play in some - not all - of the situations: the temptress to some, the bane of the lives of others.

No matter who or what prompted it, it's in the decisions one makes, or is forced to make, that Carpenter finds the magic that gives this collection of stories its glue. A highly recommended read that I anticipate topping 2013 "best of" lists this time next year!

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