I was having what was arguably a bad week when I read If You Lived Here You’d Already Be Home by John Jodzio, but every story in this debut collection offered a brief but much needed respite from the slings and arrows of the daily grind. Among other things, I had a stack of 60 freshman composition papers to grade (with another 30 or so papers looming on the horizon), I’d botched a job interview for a job I didn’t even want, and I managed to piss off at least two of my friends by inadvertently insinuating that their knowledge of aesthetics was somehow lacking. Then, of course, there was the snow, and the constant threat of more snow, and I was starting to go a little crazy — and probably would have completely lost it if not for the fact that I had Jodzio’s stories to look forward to every night. Some people drink to forget their troubles, but (this week, anyway) I was more than happy to lose myself in Jodzio’s world to get the same effect. (If you’re reading this, John, my liver thanks you.)
One thing I loved about Jodzio’s stories was that no matter how bad my week was going, I could count on his characters to be having much worse weeks than I could imagine. There’s the kid who stumbles upon a corpse while collecting golf balls in the local bog. There’s the sad clown who’s lost his dog. There’s the boy whose job is to pretend he’s the dead son of a lonely divorcee. There’s even the aspiring swimsuit model who wakes up from sunbathing one day to find that a barnacle has attached itself to her thigh. And the list goes on. In all, Jodzio presents 21 tales of woe, yet he never insults the reader by feeling sorry for his characters, nor do his characters ever feel especially sorry for themselves. They’re all dealing in good faith with a world that’s gone horribly awry, all playing the crappy cards they’ve been dealt and making the best of their bad situations.
None of this is to say that If You Lived Here is especially inspiring; that’s hardly the point. The point, I would venture to guess, is to say that life can be ridiculous at times, disappointing at others, and is largely a crap shoot, but that we just need to deal with it. At least, that’s part of the point, and I’d have loved this collection if it had just stopped there. But Jodzio, it turns out, is an optimist at heart. He doesn’t simply shit all over his characters to make us feel better about our own lots in life. Rather, he graces them with hope and leaves their lives open to miracles. To get a taste for what I’m talking about, check out his short story, “The Moonlighter,” which originally appeared in Five Chapters before being reprinted in If You Lived Here as “Whiskers.” It opens with a father whose desperation to keep his daughter from committing suicide leads him to open a veterinary clinic in his garage and climaxes with the best ending to a short story I’ve read in a long time.
Would I go so far as to say that If You Lived Here is exactly what America needs right now? Yes, I would: If You Lived Here is, in fact, exactly what America needs right now for so many reasons — perhaps most of all because it offers hope for the otherwise hopeless. If this collection is any indication of what’s to come, Jodzio is definitely a writer to watch.