This week’s review is available at The Conium Review, where I am serving as a guest editor.
In The Razing of Tinton Falls, author and historian Michael S. Adelberg examines a little-known episode of the American War for Independence from a number of perspectives. The incident in question is a raid on the town of Tinton Falls in Monmouth County, New Jersey, which occurred on June 10, 1779. What’s especially interesting about the incident is that it pitted colonists against each other — those loyal to the crown against revolutionaries. And what makes Adelberg’s account especially interesting is that he offers multiple perspectives on the raid — Loyalists, revolutionaries, pacifists, radical militiamen, and a freed slave among them. Indeed, the story of Sip, an African American Loyalist battling revolutionaries is the most telling of the narratives in this collection, for it reveals the cracks in the revolution’s foundation. To wit, if the American Revolution was truly about freedom, then why did the end result allow for slavery?
Though fictitious, Adelberg’s accounts are well-researched, and his protagonists are based on people who lived through the events in question. Moreover, Adelberg is at great pains to alert his readers to the distinctions to be made between fact and fiction throughout this book. Especially interesting in this respect is the author’s postscript, which outlines his research methods while explaining and offering a rationale for some of the liberties he takes with respect to technique. Rest assured, Adelberg never invents facts; rather, he adjusts his storytelling perspective to account for a twenty-first century audience. By eschewing archaic language like ’tis and hither, Adelberg allows his narrative focus to remain on the events at hand and the motivations behind them rather than on the superficial affectations of the age in which those events occurred.
All told, a fascinating peek into a little-known episode in American history.
In Jimmy Lagowski Saves the World, Pat Pujolas demonstrates a strong talent for parsing the subtleties of character. Early in this collection of interconnected stories, the author offers a brief vignette about an aging woman named Doreen whose self-assessment suggests that we all must transcend petty categories in order to be fully human: “She wants to tell Roxie that she is more open-minded than them. That she agrees with the overall structure of the church, but not all of its teachings. That she would vote in favor of gay marriage if it ever comes up on the Ohio ballot.” That Doreen eventually falls back on her faith as an out when her relationship with Roxie begins to take on unexpected proportions only serves to further complicate her character: she knows who she wants to be but frequently falls short of her ideal self.
And so it goes with the majority of the characters in this debut collection of fiction. Pujolas describes a wide range of characters, each haunted as much by who they want to be as by who they’ve been. Chief among these characters is Jimmy Lagowski, a twenty-year-old with a scarred face who dreams almost incessantly of an idealized race called the Ceruleans, an asymmetrical species whose shape “gives them a better sense of what fairness is.” That Jimmy should be selected for jury duty in the murder trial around which all of the stories in this collection coalesce is therefore fitting: asymmetrical himself in many ways, his sense of justice is as nuanced as it is complicated.
Jimmy Lagowski Saves the World offers much for the reader to consider, not the least of which are meditations on the nature of humanity and justice—and how these two concepts relate to each other. What’s more, Pujolas’ use of the of the Ceruleans as a device for framing many of the concepts in his writing evokes the Tralfamadorians of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, and to similar effect insofar as both alien races force us to step outside of our own frames of reference to think about ourselves from a new perspective. We are broken, Pujolas suggests throughout this collection, yet not without hope.
A promising debut.
Life is funny—sometimes—and at other times it can be—unbearable. There’s really no way to be sure just how it’s all going to turn out, but one thing is for sure—you’re probably not going to get far as a guy in a giant dollar sign suit. Success in life might even require a healthy dose of maddening chaos combined with the stark realization of just how much you’ve messed it all up to bring you around.