Tales of fantastic, unbearably embodied humanity.
Jablonski’s debut story collection is filled with insistent bodies, carved open, sewn up, cut apart, made monstrous, made beautiful or disguised as someone or something else altogether. Her characters navigate the difficulties of being human as best they can, but birth, life and death mark them for all to see. The book opens with a trilogy of stories: Pam, a once-battered wife and hairdresser in late middle age, tells of her encounter with a long-ago famous pair of conjoined twins, now down on their luck; Valerie, Pam’s adult daughter, tells the story of her mother’s ruptured tummy tuck, and her brother’s mysterious wasting disease; finally, Valerie, as a child, witnesses the slow death of her father and her baby brother’s kidnapping. The remaining six stories return to these themes of doubleness, separation, death and loss. We meet a fat man grieving his abusive father, an intrepid legless child who becomes the star of her own solo freak show, a one-legged boy separated from his conjoined twin brother at birth and a drag queen teetering on the edge of self-destruction. For the most part, Jablonski handles her material with consummate skill and care. She subsumes the innately spectacular nature of her stories under an elliptical lyricism that brings her characters’ emotional lives delicately, respectfully to the fore. Even at their most self-hating moments, they possess a wry sense of irony, an amazing resilience and, occasionally, a heartbreaking joy. Some stories are richer than others—“Solo in the Spotlight” is more brilliant sketch than full-length story—but the collection as a whole is strong. Two of the longer stories, the opening piece, “Pam Calls Her Mother on Five-Cent Sundays,” and “One of Us,” about no-longer-conjoined twins, are remarkable.
An exciting debut that rises to the risks it takes.