Rewind just a few hundred years and most wouldn’t have lived to see forty. As our ancestors shuffled along this mortal coil, their horizons would rarely have stretched beyond finding clean water, food and shelter; merely staying alive left pretty much everyone spent.
Much the same applies even today, however urbanisation and sanitation has, for us lucky ones, been a game-changer. Free to roam beyond the pen of our slop-bucket using forebears, man has indulged in crazy things like learning, beauty and love, spliced with endless bouts of existential crisis. And thus literature was born – to delve into our infinite desires and disappointments, as well as ride upon that delicious teetering: when the cogs of our lives begin to unwind. Prodigals, a debut work by the American Greg Jackson, draws on the very same rich vein – but then slams back a cocktail of stories that leaves the reader flying.
There is a line in one short that’s almost a metaphor for the whole collection. (The following is dialogue, a snippet of conversation between two men about a new girlfriend):
“So I introduced her to a few friends, Reece and Scooby, you know, people so oppressively hip there are about four square blocks in the world where they can exist, and she just melted them.”
And similarly, Prodigals oozes cool. Indeed it is so ‘now’, one begins to question whether one is hip enough even to read it. The characters are artists, writers and film makers, young guns in investment boutiques or moneyed wastrels. (One begins to wonder whether plumbers and lumberjacks ever have any kind of inner life. You will find no local council workers here). Indeed so rarefied are the basic reference points, this work should be easy to dismiss. But it’s not. Jackson’s stories are not only fresh and innovative, his words fizz with an acid tang. Moreover, the sharpness of human observation – the bare-naked honesty on display here – is eye-watering:
“..the wind ran against us like metal, and in that moment, feeling understood, … , I had the urge to take Celeste’s hand and lead her away into that other life, to start over, the two of us. And just as I thought this, at that moment, we ran into someone I knew, a gallery owner in Chelsea who wanted to know all about my recent work and what I thought of Rist’s and what was I up to, and it was so nice to meet Celeste, she said, although she mostly ignored Celeste, and by the time she left I had more or less transformed into the Ben who is a little crasser and more abrasive than he feels, because you have to talk to these art world assholes like you give even less of a fuck than they do, and I don’t mean to say I’m not one of these art world assholes myself, just that I left New York and decided to teach because I wanted to rope off a few spaces in my life where I could be genuine, or what I felt to be genuine, and where I could give a fuck.”
Jackson is style conscious – he not only wants to tell a good tale but titillate with its construction. Others will similarly experiment and fail but Jackson pulls it off – for all the fancifulness (and occasional pretentiousness), these stories are earthed. As a result, what could be seen as ridiculous, comes over as sublime. There is real verve in this writing – something irresistible; a je ne sais quoi.
Any Cop?: To witness the arrival of a new voice – one that rises above the cacophony on merit alone – is a rare privilege. And without doubt, Greg Jackson is just that – the real thing.