If I Survive You

By Jonathan Escoffery

Reviewed, 7 June 2022

Escoffery’s new collection of short stories fit together as neatly as a novel. “In Flux,” the collection’s opening piece gives the author’s answer to the peculiarly American question, “What are you?” As a nation obsessed with lineage, we’ve all considered mail-order DNA kits and websites promising to reveal our connections to royalty. We’re familiar with playground questions about ancestry. When Escoffery’s character, Trelawny, faces blunt identity questions, he examines that overwhelming American trait, assimilation.

These eight stories combine to form a picture of a Jamaican family in transition. As they gain a foothold in Florida, the needs of extended family and wishes to return to simpler times pull them back to their roots. Between biting winters at a northern university and sunny Jamaican beaches, the youngest son, Trelawny, finds an uncomfortable middle ground in his hometown, Miami. But misfortune hounds the family. Hurricanes, unpredictable income, and secrets from the past batter them as they struggle to stay connected. Underneath it lies a cracked foundation, a cherished house sinking.

It’s hard to avoid phrases like, “powerhouse short stories,” and “dazzling debut.” Each story enlightens the rest, making the collection a perfect balance of tenderness and grit, hope, and despair. Escoffery’s dark humor rings throughout, hip and down-to-earth. Defiant in the face of adversity, Trelawny wills himself through hard times. Even in despair, the faded American dream calls. There must still be a way to realize it. If there isn’t, he’ll make one.

Thanks to Net Galley for an Advance Reader’s Copy of this title. If I Survive You launches, September 2022.

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by Jamie Boud

Reviewed 29 April 2022

Jamie Boud illustrates Figurines with skilled sketches guiding us through a story where reality, fantasy, and dreams are interchangeable. Parallel casts are introduced, and four different mothers emerge from the mix, but the story will be told by one mother (Anna) and her biological daughter (Rachel). Sorting the tangled threads of family dysfunction, adopted children, and the specter of mental illness is a tall order. When two very similar narrators (mother and daughter) compete to tell their stories, distinguishing between their voices is a challenge for readers who may get impatient with these ambiguities.

As Rachel and Anna unravel in tandem, there’s a missed opportunity to unpack changing approaches to mental health care. Modern psychiatric methods fail Rachel, who turns to self-medication. Anna, diagnosed in 1955, endures shock treatments to stop the voices in her head. Misguided therapies destroy Anna but failing to treat her is also an abuse. Rachel, fending for herself against depression, receives no professional help and never sees this paradox, ever unable to get better or worse. These themes are obscured by the minutiae of a teenager’s journal and the listlessness of untreated chronic depression.

It is too late in

history to raise

these issues with-

out acknowledging

decades of feminist

activism and the

modern movements

they inspire.

Figurines is a women’s story, but men direct it. Domineering mothers aside, the plot hinges on the opinions of men in authority. Anna and Rachel both try modeling (and other means) to reassure themselves they are desirable. Anna pines for her brother, Frederick, to rescue her from the male doctors who won’t release her. Rachel’s adopted father repeatedly devalues her. To get started on her quest to find lost relatives, she needs her boyfriend to do the first Google search. But is he a boyfriend? She doesn’t know until he reassures her. It is too late in history to raise these issues without acknowledging decades of feminist activism and the modern movements they inspire. Rachel doesn’t see herself controlled by men, but the book won’t resonate with readers who do.

Boud provides all the pieces of this novel but leaves his readers to make them fit. Long passages of detailed narration demand careful attention, but when the time comes to draw a conclusion, we are left on our own to discover meaning. The author trusts us to make sense of what we are reading. But when readers have that kind of license, they might use it to find a more approachable novel.

Thanks to Reedsy Discovery for an Advance Reader’s Copy of this title. Figurines launches 3 May 2022. This review appeared first on Reedsy.com.

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Archived Reviews

Below, you’ll find full reviews of the books I’ve included in past Jennifer Reads posts.

If there’s a book you’d like to see reviewed here, leave a comment down below or send a message via my Contact Me page.

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18 June 2022

Elsa Sosa explains what she knows of her father’s life and legacy, pulling together tales of family and childhood in the Dominican Republic.

Read my full review.

If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery

7 June 2022

It’s hard to avoid phrases like, “powerhouse short stories,” and “dazzling debut.” Each story enlightens the rest, making the collection a perfect balance of tenderness and grit, hope, and despair.

Read my full review.

Untamed Passions of an Enigmatic Jamaican Man by Donovan Moore

Reviewed, 20 May 2022

Moore isn’t shy with the juicy details. Not so with matters of the heart. He withholds recollections of childhood and close friendships. On an endless quest for a love that satisfies the soul, he admits himself a philandering husband doomed to the sadness of repeated losses.

Read my full review.

Send Her Back and Other Stories by Munashe Kaseke

Reviewed, 13 May 2022

New immigrants and first-generation Americans bring life into focus. Through their eyes, we see ourselves again for the first time.

Read my full review.

In the Marble Maze by Olafur Gudnason

Reviewed, 7 May 2022

In the Marble Maze is one of many memorials Gudnason creates for Engilbjort. As he sorts through relics, photos, and clothing, he takes time to remember.

Read my full review.

Figurines by Jamie Boud

Reviewed 29 April 2022

Figurines is the tumultuous story of a mother and daughter lost in a cycle of abuse, neglect, and mental illness.

Read my full review.

Vigil Harbor by Julia Glass

Reviewed 22 April 2022

On a Massachusetts peninsula, the town of Vigil Harbor is steeped in history while besieged by a tumultuous world.

Read my full review.

By the Iowa Sea by Joe Blair

7 April 2022

Joe Blair’s excellent memoir roils and surges like the flooded Iowa rivers which were his inspiration.

Read my full review.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Fred: And Unbecoming Woman by Annie Krabbenschmidt

Reviewed, 24 March 2022

Part memoir, part treatise, part confessional, Krabbenschmidt’s book opens its heart to embrace the world as a fully human being.

Read my full review.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Remembrances of Things to Come: Daily Life in France from 1003 to 1975 by Douglas Bullis

Reviewed, 17 March 2022

A history book with a difference, Remembrances of Things to Come, takes readers on a tour of times past.

Read my full review.

A More Perfect Union by Alexander Moss

Reviewed, 24 February 2022

Ever get chills reading the morning headlines? Ever worry about how bad it could get? A More Perfect Union has an unexpected solution.

Read my full review.

Stories for the Apocalypse #1: Notes on the New Normal by Ben Tallon

Reviewed, 10 February 2022

Grab a beverage. Forget what they’re saying about you on social media. Stories for the Apocalypse #1 is altered reality with a vicious grin.

Read my full review.

Milkman by Anna Burns

Reviewed, 28 January 2022

Winner of the Man Booker Prize 2018, Milkman is a novel of importance not for the history it records but for the human story folded in its pages.

Read my full review.

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My Secret Radio by Michael Hallock

Reviewed, 12 January 2022

The story of a Southern Gothic everyman drawn by Fate through a late-20th century coming-of-age, My Secret Radio reflects on humanity and the cycles of history.

Read my full review.

DeadStar: Who the Hell Was Garth Tyson

Reviewed, 29 December 2021

by Nick Griffiths

A cast of outspoken characters framed by a compelling mystery, DeadStar offers obscure rock history with the requisite effing and blinding.

Read my full review.

The Last Days of Dogtown by Anita Diamant

Reviewed, 13 December 2021

I first reviewed this novel on Good Reads in June 2011. Ten years later, I still receive regular comments from fellow readers about this haunting gem.

Read my full review.

The Mighty Franks by Michael Frank

Reviewed, 27 November 2021

Michael Frank gives us his coming of age story in the form of this emotional memoir of a remarkable family.

Read my full review.

Giving Up the Ghost by Hilary Mantel

Reviewed, 8 November 2021

Written before her highly acclaimed Booker Prize-winning novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, Mantel comes to terms with a childhood of illness and poverty, nosey neighbors and social sleights. The keen girl who observes it all is a born writer.

Read my full review.

The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them) by Jack M. Bickham

Reviewed, 29 October 2021

This comprehensive style guide leads the way through a minefield of writing pitfalls. With chapter titles like, Don’t Make Excuses and Don’t Worry What Mother Will Think, Bickham leads aspiring writers over the narrow path to great stories.

Read my full review.

Writing In General and the Short Story In Particular by Rust Hill

Reviewed, 16 October 2021

Rust Hill breaks down modern fiction with the insights of a veteran reader, editor and lecturer, assuring us in his introduction that originality makes the difference between “slick fiction” and a fine story. “If you’ve actually got that, you’re the kind of person who could possibly really use this book, without probably really needing it….”

Read my full review .