PRODIGALS by Greg Jackson


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Well-educated but rudderless people seek enlightenment in these stories—or at least an interesting trip and a good high.

The eight stories in Jackson’s debut are populated by bright, artistic men and women who are chafing at the adulthood that’s just about to consume them. The narrator of “Wagner in the Desert” joins a group of friends for one last druggy bacchanal in Palm Springs; in “Epithalamium,” a divorcée bonds with a free-spirited young woman who’s taken up residence in her summer home; “Dynamics in the Storm” is told by a man who helps drive his therapist out of New York in advance of a hurricane, and the sexual tension between them intensifies along with the weather. Those characters and others are, as the book's title suggests, people who've abandoned their roots, and Jackson has a nuanced sense of how a change of scenery can frazzle your sense of self. That’s best exposed in “Serve-and-Volley, Near Vichy,” a story about a journalist who winds up in the home of a retired tennis star and how much his own identity curdles as he obsesses over (and to an extent takes on) the athlete’s persona. Jackson’s stories are consistently dark and smart, if sometimes pretentious: Scrabble vocabulary (“salmagundi,” “nevi”) crops up in otherwise sinuous paragraphs, and the philosophizing in the closing “Metanarrative Breakdown” clouds its core story about a man’s visit to his dying grandfather. To be fair, though, telling a story about telling stories is a tough gig, and Jackson is unquestionably a talented and careful writer, deft at delivering a well-turned and effective simile: a wind “forced the trees together like lousy drunks”; a woman observes that “we grow into our toughness like snakes, molting hope.”

An admirable debut that cannily captures the difficulty of balancing good deeds with bad behavior.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-374-23813-1
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2016


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