An alcoholic arrives at his ex-wife’s house for his son’s funeral. A boy copes with his father’s breakdown. A dying woman has her last conversation with her husband. A slow-witted, sociopathic woman leads a girl to her worst nightmare. Guatemalan natives deify a sixteenth-century Spanish missionary. A serial killer explains the events leading up to his first kill. These are just a handful of the stories in the latest collection from David Jauss, Glossolalia.
Tightly crafted and diverse, these stories come from Jauss’s previous collections, Crimes of Passion and Black Maps, as well as his uncollected works. Jauss draws his characters against a backdrop of entropy and loss, and shows us the often-heartbreaking results of their attempts to fight these forces. A wide range of diverse characters makes this collection a success; the Carver-esque, divorced alcoholic is penned with the same sense of loss as the serial killer and the nun.
In the title story, “Glossolalia,” a sixteen-year-old Danny is forced to come to terms with his father’s dysfunction at a time when he’d rather be coming to terms with his own. “I was sixteen then, a tough age. And he was forty, an age I’ve since learned is even tougher.” Danny witnesses his father crumble on the kitchen floor after the loss of his job at Goodyear and an outburst of violence, a state that Danny has never seen him in before. After his father returns from a brief institutional stay, things seem to return to normal, a fact that Danny still wonders at as an adult. “It amazed me that a life could break so utterly, then mend itself.”
Not all losses mend themselves, though, which becomes a truth too brutal to sublimate in one of the collection’s toughest and most rewarding stories, “Rainier.” Alec is too drunk to recognize his own son’s name when his ex-wife calls to tell him that his son is dead. What follows is a story about the farce of control in the face of entropy, of delirium tremens and grief. Alec goes to stay with his ex-wife and her new husband to attend the funeral. He’s given strict orders not to drink. “If you can’t stay sober out of consideration for me and Gale,” his ex-wife tells him, “I hope you can do it for Chuck.” Whatever the reasons—pride, spite, sincere remorse—Alec is able to stay sober until the shakes finally prove to him that he’s not in control. His wife angers, but not not much matters to Alec anymore.
“I wasn’t drunk, not anymore, but it didn’t matter. And it didn’t matter that Barbara and Gale were angry at me. Nothing mattered now. It was all over. And suddenly I felt numb, almost peaceful, even though I knew it couldn’t last, that any minute now all the pain and sorrow could come back, maybe even worse than before.”
Like so many of Jauss’s characters, there is nothing to be done about the decay of our world.
While these more quotidian stories—stories with characters that look and act and speak a lot like you and me—are powerful and well crafted, Jauss demonstates his capacity for great storytelling when he wades deeper into negative capability, putting on the second skin of missionaries and nuns, serial killers and hook-handed lovers, Dominican minor league pitchers and nineteenth-century Russian newspaper editors. One of the most moving and frightening examples of these stories is “Deliverance,” which takes the shape of a transcript from a psychiatric evaluation. The interview is with Deliverance Egg, a possibly disabled woman with extreme, sociopathic levels of unreliability. She lies to the interviewer; she lies to other characters; she lies to the reader. Her lies, too, are at the heart of the matter.
“Now I call that a lie, and I ought to know because I lie all of the time.”
Are you lying now?
“No, I’m not, but would I tell you if I was? My point is, if I wasn’t such a liar, I wouldn’t be here talking into his dumb tape recorder and Riviera would be giving some pimply teenager the business in his apartment.”
Deliverance’s best friend is the young Rosy Blue, a child whose admiration is the most important thing in the world. Deliverance recounts her initial lie to Rosie—that a man with a gun attempted to rape her—and how that encouraged Rosie to run away from home with her. What follows is a night in the city with an unlikely pair of travelers, comical in its absurdity and devastating in its implications. The journey is shaped by Deliverance’s lies, all of which are designed to evoke loyalty and devotion from Rosy. Deliverance’s need for Rosy’s protectiveness reaches unconceivable heights when she leaves the child alone to an unspeakable fate. Was Deliverance responsible for what happened? “Not any more that God is, and I don’t see you ‘assessing’ him. He’s getting off scot-free, just like he always does.” Deliverance attempts to control the narrative through her lies, to assert her place in an unstable universe through storytelling. She wants to control who she is, but by the end of all of her stories, it just beyond her reach, and we see her for what she really is: a monster.
Jauss gives us seventeen dark and moving stories with Glossolalia. He presents a manifold of characters, all inked with the same sense of loss. What makes these stories eminently readable is the univerality of their characters’ struggles to control the uncontrollable. For Jauss, those that live their lives at the edge of the universe are twisted and contorted by the same forces as those that live their lives at the center of it.
David Jauss’s fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in numerous magazines, including Arts & Letters, The California Quarterly, The Georgia Review, The Iowa Review, The Missouri Review, The Nation, New England Review, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, Poetry, Prairie Schooner, Shenandoah, upstreet and The Writer's Chronicle. Jauss teaches creative writing at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and in the MFA in Writing Program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
In addition to the O. Henry Prize, two Pushcart Prizes, and a Best American Short Stories selection, Jauss’s awards and honors include the AWP Award for Short Fiction, the Fleur-de-Lis Poetry Prize, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a James A. Michener Fellowship, a fellowship from the Minnesota State Arts Board, three fellowships from the Arkansas Arts Council, and the Porter Fund Award for Literary Excellence.
Chase Dearinger holds an M.F.A. from the University of Central Oklahoma and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at Texas Tech University. His fiction has appeared in The Bitter Oleander, Eclectica, Short Story America, and others. He serves as managing editor for both Iron Horse Literary Review and Arcadia.