On beauty and Denis Johnson

When I was 22, I picked up Jesus’ Son at my favorite bookstore in Seattle. It was a slight book on a recommended table in the middle of the store. I read the first few stories standing there and realized afterward that I was holding my breath. That the slight book felt like redemption.

Denis Johnson read from that collection at the first literary festival we held at my graduate school. We weren’t calling it Get Lit! yet, but eventually we would. He read the short story, Emergency, and we all laughed and laughed and it felt like crying. By then I’d read his poetry, too, and been unraveled and kicked by it.

Johnson writes about people who keep failing. People who are difficult to love. And in their pills and alcohol and frantic, messy attempts to understand one another, there is so much beauty that it hurts you. The way real human interactions do. The way you hurt yourself with your hopeful efforts to live a little better and truer with the people in your orbit.

When he died last year, I immediately read Jesus’ Son again. And cried. Both at the girl I had been when I first discovered him, and the man he had been reading to us from that podium years and years ago. And the stories themselves, held together almost effortlessly like a fine black suit.

This week, I discovered that his final short story collection, finished before his death, has been published. And like David Bowie, and Leonard Cohen, his final work, The Largesse of the Sea Maiden, is filled with the end. The end is everywhere.

What if we are lucky for the difficulty of our lives? What if the fact that I spent most of December and January so sick that I couldn’t think is why this week I am happier than I have been in a long time? Not because suffering is good for us but because staunching our injuries is the entire fucking point. I held myself together and kept walking until I could jog a little bit. Until I could enjoy these overcast days where we’re all inside too much. When I finally remembered that winter is a season and not my fucking life.

There’s beauty in the mess because there’s beauty and mess. The both at once and sometimes just the one that stretches on so long we can’t remember that there was anything before it. Until there is. Beauty again. Beauty over and over. The way you are kissed sometimes in your sleep, and the kiss draws you up into waking and you are unaccountably grateful, as you remember the kiss bringing you to consciousness, and then immediately wonder if the kiss was real, or just a story you told yourself to make waking feel like love.

 

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Jill Malone

Jill Malone grew up in a military family, went to German kindergarten, and lived across from a bakery that made gummi bears the size of mice. She has lived on the East Coast and in Hawaii, and for the last seventeen years in Spokane with her son, two dogs, a hedgehog, and a lot of outdoor gear. She looks for any excuse to play guitar. Jill is married to a performance artist and addiction counselor who makes the best risotto on the planet.

Giraffe People is her third novel. Her first novel, Red Audrey and the Roping, was a Lambda finalist and won the third annual Bywater Prize for Fiction. A Field Guide to Deception, her second novel, was a finalist for the Ferro-Grumley, and won the Lambda Literary Award and the Great Northwest Book Festival.

Giraffe People

Giraffe People

Between God and the army, fifteen-year-old Cole Peters has more than enough to rebel against. But this Chaplain’s daughter isn’t resorting to drugs or craziness. Truth to tell, she’s content with her soccer team and her band and her white bread boyfriend.

And then, of course, there’s Meghan.

Meghan is eighteen years old and preparing for entry into West Point. For this she has sponsors: Cole’s parents. They’re delighted their daughter is finally looking up to someone. Someone who can tutor her and be a friend.

But one night that relationship changes and Cole’s world flips.

Giraffe People is a potent reminder of the rites of passage and passion that we all endure on our road to growing up and growing strong. Award-winning author Jill Malone tells a story of coming out and coming of age, giving us a take that is both subtle and fresh.

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A Field Guide to Deception

A Field Guide to Deception

In Jill Malone’s second novel, A Field Guide to Deception, nothing is as simple as it appears: community, notions of motherhood, the nature of goodness, nor even compelling love. Revelations are punctured and then revisited with deeper insight, alliances shift, and heroes turn anti-hero—and vice versa.

With her aunt’s death Claire Bernard loses her best companion, her livelihood, and her son’s co-parent. Malone’s smart, intriguing writing beguiles the reader into this taut, compelling story of a makeshift family and the reawakening of a past they’d hoped to outrun. Claire’s journey is the unifying tension in this book of layered and shifting alliances.

A Field Guide to Deception is a serious novel filled with snappy dialogue, quick-moving and funny incidents, compelling characterizations, mysterious plot twists, and an unexpected climax. It is a rich, complex tale for literary readers.

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Red Audrey and the Roping

Red Audrey and the Roping

Occasionally a debut novel comes along that rocks its readers back on their heels. Red Audrey and the Roping is one of that rare and remarkable breed. With storytelling as accomplished as successful literary novelists like Margaret Atwood and Sarah Waters, Jill Malone takes us on a journey through the heart of Latin professor Jane Elliot.

Set against the dramatic landscapes and seascapes of Hawaii, this is the deeply moving story of a young woman traumatized by her mother’s death. Scarred by guilt, she struggles to find the nerve to let love into her life again. Afraid to love herself or anyone else, Jane falls in love with risk, pitting herself against the world with dogged, destructive courage. But finally she reaches a point where there is only one danger left worth facing. The sole remaining question for Jane is whether she is willing to accept her history, embrace her damage, and take a chance on love.

As well as a gripping and emotional story, Red Audrey and the Roping is a remarkable literary achievement. The breathtaking prose evokes setting, characters, and relationships with equal grace. The dialogue sparks and sparkles. Splintered fragments of narrative come together to form a seamless suspenseful story that flows effortlessly to its dramatic conclusion.

Winner of the Bywater Prize for Fiction, Red Audrey and the Roping is one of the most memorable first novels you will ever read.

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