Monday, March 19, 2018

A Brief Review of Grant Jerkins' A Scholar of Pain

What damaged little creatures we human folk are;

Grant Jerkins is what a literary writer should be: An alchemist of empathy. The short stories in this collection introduce us to characters we know exist all around us, and, in some cases, characters who reflect exactly who WE are.  There's the woman embarrassed by having to pay for groceries with her EBT card, parents dealing with the horror of a child in danger of dying from disease, a quiet pervert whose inability to communicate in a "normal" manner turns him (I assume it's a him) into a stalker, a wife who discovers her husband is cheating in a most oddball manner, and a husband dealing with a wife who hoards remarkably useless things. This is not middle-class literary fiction, this is not naval-gazing. The people who populate Grant's stories are, in spite of their very human construction, dealing with situations that border on (and sometimes surpass) extraordinary situations. This is why these stories work--the human element is there, and so is that tiny step beyond reality, into fiction, required to make a short story worth reading. I made my way through this collection rather quickly because, like all good writers, Grant has taken the time to craft readable prose and stories capable of holding the reader's interest. This isn't a book you read before bedtime, it's not going to put you to sleep. This is a book you read to remind yourself that, while we are all born alone and we will all die alone, in the meantime, we are all, in one way or another, suffering, and this single fact should be the one thing that brings us together. It doesn't, of course. Humans, while capable of tremendous beauty, are basically idiots. Books like A Scholar of Pain, however, grant (no pun intended) us a brief reprieve, where we're reminded our squabbles with our neighbors, ultimately, mean nothing.