by Grady Harp
PRIORS is at once disconcerting to read and at the same time, reassuring - that at least someone else has experienced that dichotomy of perception as to what is real and what is imagined, whether what we have chosen as the journey of our life is what we desire or what has been imposed on us. Marcel Jolley walks around the area he knows and, with some of the most imaginative prose being written today, makes his place as familiar to the reader as hidden secrets. He speaks plainly but with a manipulation of words that transforms his short stories into extended poems.
In his one novella (there are also four short stories in this book) he writes, 'I'm not from here, but I may as well be. I have called this place home for over twenty-two years, and the city where I grew up Outside wouldn't recognize me on the street. My rare returns to Seattle are like bumping into some third-grade classmate I played little league with but then his family moved away and he went to school for something I know zilch about and we both just stand there toeing the dirt, grasping for anything to say.' That is the kind of homespun conversation Jolley has with his reader. On the surface it feels comfortable, even superficial, but then he dives below that surface with stories that provide a Richter scale wallop.
In 'Peripherals' our narrator is left with one eye after his friend accidentally destroyed the other as well as their friendship, but time passes and the friend dies and our narrator acts as a pallbearer - life's little twists and turns. In 'Hood River' a son waits for the arrival of his estranged mother and his deceased and equally estranged father's ashes. In 'Priors' the title refers to previous brushes with the law as our narrator copes with a grand accident. And so it goes. The stories seem like everyday occurrences - if you lead as unusual life as Jolley's characters. But for this reader one of the most exhilarating aspects of the writing is the author's inimitable ability to recreate a sense of place. These stories all take place in the Pacific Northwest, with Portland, Oregon being the lead character. How Jolley is so successful in painting the dank damp drizzly air and its mirror on buildings and landscape and of course on people's psyches is likely unmatched in today's writing - at least writing that enters the specific aura of that region. How to end a review of Marcel Jolley? Another quote, of course: 'No one knows the rest of the story - not some turkey-necked dinosaur on the radio or a judge hiding behind his bench or even your parents shaking their heads over the breakfast table. There is always more. There has to be.' Grady Harp, June 12
Author: Marcel Jolley
Publisher: Black Lawrence Press