November 16, 2009
What Boys Like by Amy Jones
I’d previously read Amy Jones’ “The Church of the Latter-Day Peaches” in The New Quarterly, and as I read the story again in Jones’ new collection, I was hoping that this time the story might be different. This time, could it possiby have an ending that wouldn’t break my heart? It didn’t, though I was so hopeful that a little trick with italics caught me once again, and I dared to be tripped up by the same trick that caught me before.
And how engaging is that, I ask? To read so far into a story, that it wraps itself around me, and then I get all wrapped up in it too, and the whole thing is an untenable knot?
What Boys Like is a lot like its cover. Though its tone is not upbeat, the colours are so vivid that you’d never find these stories bleak. And yes, the girls are often steeley-eyed, dangerous, tough as nails. The comic-strip touch suggesting a pop-cultural bent, and indeed, Jones’ characters listen to pop music, they play video games, sports is playing on TV, and references are tied up in zeitgeist.
Jones displays impressive range, writing in first, third and an impressively-executed second-person. Her characters are male and female, young and older than young, on the cusp, over the edge, or past the point of no return. They lead such desperate lives, and then there are these moments of grace– the pregnant lady who shares her peanut butter sandwich, the man who dares a young girl to be something, that Jenny goes home at all, Marty looking for bats in the garden, and all that love. The baby inside her. And when those who really get it had it coming anyway.
These are stories mostly of Halifax, in and around. In “The Church of the Latter-Day Peaches”, the first sentence tells the story: “There is nothing more unseemly than a pregnant widow at a funeral”. “Places to Drink Outside in Halifax” is the story of the first party of high school, drinking on Alexander Keith’s grave. In “An Army of One”, a woman attends the wedding of her male best friend (who she’s been sleeping with for years). “All We Will Ever Be” is two sides of a woman from the perspective of the man she’s just about to throw away and the other she’s just sinking her teeth into.
In each of these stories, premise is realized into someting vivid and whole. Amy Jones’ stories are easy to fall into, but complex enough that there is something new upon returning to them again and again.