When I first picked up jimmy lagowski saves the world, the short story collection debut by Pat Pujolas, I was expecting to read a funny little book. Really, that’s all I’d thought from the summary on the back. The twin epigraphs hadn’t really changed my mind, the first being the quote “All men are created equal” from Thomas Jefferson and the second, attributed to the character Jimmy Lagowski himself, being “Thomas Jefferson was a dick.” After reading one or two stories, however, I decided that jimmy lagowski saves the world was a collection that evokes tender emotion through the bare humanity of the characters. This bit from “State Park Resort” is a perfect example:
A few hours later, he emerges from the arts and crafts barn, victorious. She’s going to love this dog, this gift from Henry. In his excitement, he runs down the dusty road, past the game-room, past the other campers and tents, all the way to the Martin Family’s camper. Joann is eating lunch at the picnic table, and Henry runs to her side, presenting the dog to her, with both hands, like a trophy.
“It’s so adorable,” Joann says. “I’m going to call him Henry.”
A knife, straight to the heart; his cheeks fill with blood again.
Joann pats the statute on its head. “Good little Henry. He’s a good little boy.”
Inside, Henry thinks, don’t call it that. Please don’t call it that. Call it anything in the worlds but that. Inside, this is what Henry thinks.
In short, a twelve-year-old boy makes himself vulnerable in a valiant and creative attempt to win the young girl he loves, only to have her unwittingly demonstrate that she considers more of a friendly puppy than a suitor.
This section from “A More Realistic You” is another good example:
Charlie is barely eleven months old, and Doreen has just finished changing his diaper. She opens the baby powder and dusts his legs and feet, rubbing them gently, and Charlie giggles. It makes Doreen giggle too. She does it again, a few times, before she decides to take a picture, so she’ll remember this moment forever- Doreen sets baby Charlie on the changing table and looks through the tiny viewfinder; and in the split second that follows: Charlie bucks with his legs, just enough to send his body flipping off the changing table. Doreen can see it happening, but can’t move fast enough to catch him. Charlie lands on his head, his neck bending grotesquely, his body following. But it’s the sound of his soft head hitting the hardwood floor that says with her. It keeps playing over and over in her mind, long after he screams and cries; long after they have left the hospital, and the emergency room; long after Charlie has grown up, and married, and had a child of his own.
Boiled down, the passage of a split second turns a moment that a mother wished to permanently capture into one she forever wants to forget.
Misfired young love, eternal maternal guilt; these are the tender emotions that lay bare the humanity of the characters. As the above quotes illustrate, the prose in jimmy lagowski saves the world is relatively plain. There are some wonderful lines, and some sentences are more winding than others, but the prose is not bogged down with unnecessary ornamentation. Normal language stands back and lets the emotion shine through.
Of course, though stories that evoke tender emotion through bared humanity is more accurate than what I originally thought from the back of the book, I still hadn’t gotten the full picture of how jimmy lagowski saves the world operates. The more I read, the more I began to see just how interrelated the stories are. More than just linked, these stories are interdependent.
For example, unexplained murders in two stories are actually the subject of a jury trial in another. A park ranger’s confession in yet another story actually explains the murders. Henry, from “State Park Resort” above (though a more hardened, older, and drunker version of Henry), serves as a juror on the trial. However, even though the stories are all interconnected, not all of the stories are straightforward realism. There are also stories regarding a morally advanced alien society judging humanity at least partially on the basis of the trial.
Frankly, the more I read and the more the stories reflected off of one another, the deeper I engaged with the book. Each new story revised how I felt about the ones that had gone before, bringing some new aspect of previous stories to light. My perception of one story about a flawed man caring for his child was changed by a later story where the man is on trial for murder. That perception was again changed by a yet later story where the murder victim is revealed to have been the accidental cause of the child’s death. It was like rereading all the previous stories each time I read a new one. In short, the experience of reading jimmy lagowski saves the world is progressive, and exponential.
David S. Atkinson received his MFA from the University of Nebraska. His writing has appeared in “Grey Sparrow Journal,” “Interrobang?! Magazine,” “Atticus Review,” and others. His book, “Bones Buried in the Dirt,” was published in January 2013 by River Otter Press. His writing website is http://davidsatkinsonwriting.com/.