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19 Knives

by Mark Anthony Jarman

In the final story of Mark Anthony Jarman’s new collection, the narrator’s five-year-old son indicates over breakfast that he hates God. Why? Because the Supreme Being “made bad things in the world.” The boy then pops a grape into his mouth and suggests to his two brothers that they race bikes in the carport. The children take off, leaving the narrator with his head spinning. “End of theological discussion for them,” he thinks, “though the sentiments keep echoing in my skull….”

Jarman’s work is equally fade-resistant. Each of 19 Knives’ 14 stories (all first-person narratives) integrates sparkling linguistic kinetics and honey-like narrative stickiness. Rejecting postmodern cynicism, Jarman celebrates life’s ecstatic mysteries. Religious in their own way – finding meaning in music and everyday life, not empty theology – these stories shake like Muddy Waters riding a riff into the dark recesses of the night.

The unnamed narrator of “Song from Under the Floorboards” is a typical Jarman persona. Once a high school football star and now a mechanic, he confesses, “There is no convincing logic in my life.” Recalling two classmates who commited suicide, he juggles some fearsome questions. How did he end up where he ended up? What happened to the volcanic ecstasy he felt on the football field when he submarined hotshots from the rich high school across town?

The mechanic, like the five-year-old, sees directly into the inner workings of the world. Bad things happen. One thing often does not lead to another. On the other hand, the carport is there for racing bikes. Grab your brothers and go. Think about what it was like to play football in high school. Put that feeling into words. Say it’s like having a “voice jammed in my head like a high heel on a dancefloor.” Win bonus points for delivering fresh prose. Jarman gives us the best stuff. Solid gold.