I am fascinated by flash fiction, a prose genre that has emerged over the last decade plus. Whereas the prose poem has always felt to me to be a bit of a useless endeavor, a stunting of sorts, flash fiction has been able to produce literary gems that are lyrically powerful while being narratively complex. The genre has also been able to pour over the boundaries of fiction into non-fiction giving even more life to the essayists pursuing creative nonfiction.
An increasingly common tactic for indie publishers of late has been to pair short fiction with artists thereby increasing the visibility of both. I’m hoping this becomes a trend, if not the de facto course for indie presses and larger houses alike. This year I reviewed a slim volume that did just this and now I’m glad to have encountered another in Chris Jalufka’s Youth In The City edition from Evil Tender featuring the work of artist Thomas Danthony.
The fusion of the two artists enhances the work of both without distracting from either, a maneuver that is more difficult that it appears. Danthony’s color palate does a wonderful job of heightening the tone of Jalufka’s stories, which tend towards an aloofness or disassociation from others that isn’t so much lonely as willfully alone. There’s something to Jalufka’s characters that make them feel as though they’ve emerged from weather system made of J.G. Ballard and 1970s Tom Waits piano laments.
In the story Vodka Tonic, Jalufka’s protagonist as such (because, really, none of the stories have a hero rather most often simply an unknown voice’s point of view) shows just how different from others he is by projecting a perspective that only the aggressively and wilfully child-free could possess: “Babies weren’t made, they thought. They come forth and tear themselves into the world as a bag of bones, a creature both holy and monstrous. Birth was the disaster of sex and boredom that resulted in a leash of flesh and the wet voiced piece of you and of another.” I adore the language here but can see just how foreign this thinking is even to the most radical of readers and writers.
What worries me most about Jalufka’s stories is how the particular angle of nearly every story is filtered through not an odd hetero-masculinity but one that’s troubling. Femininity is a strange thing in these stories, something to be tentatively approached but then, ultimately, subordinated. In the story What We Call Our Own the male narrator muses on a friend of a friend whom he is driving around, “She said she could sing and I believed her. It was easier than having her demonstrate. It was always embarrassing to hear someone sing. Do that thing with their voice that was suppose to entertain and enthrall. Move internal.” This isn’t insecurity or bashfulness, but a kind of feeling ashamed for others. Yet as the story progresses, the narrator turns the woman into an anecdote, something existing only for himself: “She was there to act as an event that could be used in case I felt something for someone in the future and needed a point of reference.”
I think Jalufka is problematizing the default cishet setting that many and most readers occupy, and I appreciate it because it makes the stories more than merely quirky glimpses. Youth In The City is a fast read but the stories resonate, lingering in the reader’s mind well after the prose is complete. It is for that reason, Jalufka’s book is more than worthwhile.
Listen to a sample story, ‘When It’s Summer’:
Born and raised in California. ‘Youth in the City: Various Small Fictions’ is his first book. He currently lives in Gilroy, California with his wife and two children. They used to have a dog, but now they don’t.
Thomas Danthony is a french artist based in London. His work often contains a narrative enhanced with a clever use of light that allows the images to tell a story and makes the spectator think. His client list includes, among others, Ray Ban, Google, The New York Time, TFL, Mondo, Liberty, Penguin, English National Opera, Netflix, Architect Magazine, Arte, Nokia, Sadler’s Wells Theatre. Thomas has also been developing his painting over the last few years, leading to his first solo show in Paris in 2015 at the Sergeant Paper gallery.
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