Review of 'Cloud and Other Stories' by Jason Jordan

Jason Jordan’s second collection, Cloud and Other Stories, is an inventive exploration of narrative structure, surrealism and existential crises. It’s separated into two geographically-titled sections ('Louisville' and 'Pittsburgh', each meant to catalogue where these stories were written [not only geographically, but perhaps, ultimately, where in Jordan’s life]).

These stories utilize absurd, often grotesque Barthelme (whom Jordan references in “My Better Half”) -esque humor to both parody and genuinely portray relationships of all dynamics, including with the self, and his use of symbolism veils various social, political and existential themes.

In “Surviving,” a man discovers he has a brain tumor after suffering bloody noses and bouts of fainting. It's separated into seven sections, each with one-letter headings which together spell out “I AM DYING.” The final section, 'G', is absent.

After moving in with his mother, the narrator’s brother, whom he hasn’t seen in a long time, comes to visit. They sit on a dock with their feet dangling in the water, talking about the past. Here, during a discussion of September 11th, Jordan slips in, as the narrator contemplates his own mortality, some existential political commentary:
People die every fuckin day. What’s the difference? This is more shocking and hits closer to home than kids starving to death in Africa, I thought, but people are gonna die one way or another. Are we making too big a deal of this?
So many people dying in one day in a terrorist attack is, as Jordan accurately points out, no different from the number of people who die every day from natural causes, because they are refused medical care due to lack of health insurance, or how many people have died at the hands of British and American colonialism/imperialism.

This also brings to mind Tobacco company casualties (as corporations are now, under U.S. law, considered 'persons' with free speech 'who' can donate money to political campaigns/PACs, etc.), as Big Tobacco is legally allowed to continually murder people for profit, people they’ve addicted to their product because of the efforts of lobbyists. The same must be said of fast food chains who actively engage in the obesification of children and adults, leading to diabetes, heart disease, etc. Jordan hints at this, too:

You know how I know we won’t survive? I asked my brother.

You mean, like, us? Or humans in general?

Well yeah, but I mean humans in general. One day I was driving home and saw a McDonald’s bag, which looked like it was full of junk, on the side of the road. Obviously someone had thrown it out the window and littered, you know? Well does it really even matter? It ends up in the ground anyway, so what’s it matter if it ends up here or in some garbage dump? We just take what we want out of the ground, and put the stuff we don’t want back into it. Eventually it all goes back into the ground anyway. He pointed to the other side of the lake. Near the shore was a Steak ‘n Shake cup surfing the miniature waves, effortlessly staying afloat.

See? I said, and then we both laughed.

They laugh at the inevitability of death, at the absurdity of Ameriocan culture—almost intuitively. They discuss the ground while looking out over a body of water (from which all life originated). The ground in which we are buried, the lake, the styrofoam cup “effortlessly staying afloat,” all are metonymic representations of life being just as anxious to survive as it is futile to exist at all.

In “Spelunking,” perhaps the shortest and most significant example of tragicomic irony in this collection, a man badly cuts his throat eating “those new buzz saw Doritos®,” and shrinks his roommate Zack to the size of a Gummi Bear to repel down his throat to “deduce how bad the damage [is].” The narrator holds a rope on which Zack dangles holding a lantern in his throat:
I feel Zack walking around. I want to spit or chew or swallow. At once the rope tightens, so I know Zack has begun his descent down my esophagus. I don't have a gag reflex, so it's easy enough. In the mirror I look like a jack-o-lantern without holes. My eyes follow the light down my throat. The light moves slowly. It stops at the halfway point and I wonder if something's wrong.
The narrator’s remark, that he doesn’t have a gag reflex, seems initially innocuous, until the story’s climax when he lets go of the rope and Zack plummets down his throat and into his stomach. In this inadvertent act of cannibalism, he must act quickly, only to end in horror:
The only option: Force myself to vomit. I get on my knees in front of the toilet and stick a couple fingers down my throat like I've seen people do in the movies. I stick them as far down as I can get them, but it's no use.

I have no gag reflex.
In “Duel,” four teenagers invent and decide to film a new version of Jackass: Historical Jackass:
[W]e could base the skits on historical events and stuff. We can include real people and exact dates. I mean, the reason people, or parents I guess, were so against Jackass was that it was gross and didn’t have any value. It was funny, sure, but it didn’t teach anybody anything. This would be educational.
The first historical event they decide to film is the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. They buy costumes for historical accuracy, and the story’s narrator, Alex, agrees to be shot with one of the other kids’ father’s Derringer:

-That would be awesome, man,- I said, genuinely impressed. -Is Aaron actually gonna shoot me?-
-It’d be good for publicity,- said Aaron, the one who would be monopolizing the shooting.

This story shows how susceptible to manipulation we are, how influenced by pop culture and media bombardment, and proposes the idea that, even with the best intentions, situations taken to extremes inevitably ends in tragedy.

Every story in this collection is filled with the same sense of irony. All are energetic, experimental, emotional.

In “in the garden of Death,” a man planting tomatoes is approached by Death to plant six black seeds, one of which will sprout to become Death's replacement. The only letters capitalized in the story are in reference to Death—even the narrator is referred to with a lowercase ‘i’, reflecting biblical references to [g]od.

In “The Pink Light Bulb,” the narrator is an apartment number that hears “SOUNDSSOUNDSSOUNDS” all day from the televisions of everyone on its floor of the apartment building. A vengeful neighbor soon unscrews the number from its door, leaving it on the hallway floor where the number sees the pink light bulb lighting the hall, hearing its “BUZZBUZZBUZZ…”

In “My Better Half” (which references Barthelme), a man has a neighbor cut him in half with a large saw he bought at Wal*mart so he can double his domestic productivity. Presented in academic-essay format, the story instructs the reader to analyze it and ends with instructions to write a 10,000-word essay about the story, providing two pages of blank lines to write on. Apropos of the narrator’s cutting himself in half, the story ends with:
[D]o NOT use complete sentences. Only fragments.
Jason Jordan is the editor of decomP. Cloud and Other Stories is available from Six Gallery Press. He is also the author of Powering the Devil’s Circus: Redux (Six Gallery Press, 2010). Here is Jason Jordan’s blog.


Jason Jordan said...

Thanks so much for the thoughtful write-up, Eric. I appreciate it!

adam moorad said...

nice. i'm excited to read my copy.

Eric Beeny said...

@Jason: You're welcome, J, I really liked this collection...

@Adam: Thanks, I'm sure you'll like it a lot...