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Jenny and the Jaws of Life: Short Stories Paperback – September 14, 2002


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

First published in 1987, this debut collection of morbidly funny stories has been given a well-deserved second life. Willett is a marvelous philosopher and humanist, even when writing about subjects that beg for a knee-jerk reaction. In "Resume," a run-of-the-mill man gives God a quick rundown of his life. He cheated on his wife once, but notes that he "cried once on someone else's account" while watching a televised unfolding of American POWs returning to Washington and asks God to consider granting immortality in return for nothing, just as "a fresh approach." "Under the Bed" is narrated by a woman who was beaten and raped in her own home. She says the rapist "measurably improved the quality of my life," because she no longer lives in fear of the unknown. In "Mr. Lazenbee," a sixth grader manipulates her school's new campaign to teach children about "touches that feel good" and "touches that feel funny" by pointing fingers at an easy neighborhood target. Willett is alive to the absurd in American culture and the tragicomic struggle for dignity that we often lose. "My mother is dying. My husband's mistress has myasthenia gravis. My younger daughter just gave all of her trust money to the Church of the Famous Maker.... I can't sleep, and I'm not so much depressed as humiliated, both by slapstick catastrophe and by the minute tragedy of my wasted talents," laments Willett's funniest subject, an advice columnist who has an existential crisis in epistolary form. Though some of Willett's observations are predictable, the best of these stories still seem ahead of their time.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

A character sounds the anthem for this well-wrought collection when she observes that "real life just happens, whereas stories make sense." Trapped in the chaos of life, Willett's peoplea wisecracking advice columnist headed toward crack-up, children who manipulate or murder their elders, rapists and their victimsstill try to make sense of its "pointless mess." Nostalgic reminiscence and imagination link the stories "My Father at the Wheel" and "Father of Invention." In the endearing "Melinda Falling," a bored attorney is taken with the awkwardness of a dumpy secretary. From the despair and resignation of "Jenny" to the hope of rescue and reconciliation of the "The Jaws of Life," Willett skirts life's heartless ironies lightly and with wit. She's clearly a writer to watch. Mary Soete, San Diego P.L., Cal.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Burning Down George Orwell's House
Burning Down George Orwell's House
Pulitzer Prize and PEN/Faulkner Award finalist Robert Stone describes Burning Down George Orwell's House as a "… most enjoyable, a witty, original turn … one part black comedy and one part a meditation on modern life. It is well-written and truly original." Learn more about the author, Andrew Ervin

Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin (September 14, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312306180
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312306182
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,195,095 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Sean Mccollum on February 18, 2004
Format: Paperback
What I got out of it was a cynical look at life and death, and how people react to them. My favorite, "Resume," is a man talking to God as his wife dies, but bargaining for his own life as per his weasley persona. Another is written completely in the format of an advice column, showcasing the empty lives of its readers. The most well rounded story is "The Jaws Of Life" about a guy trying to recapture lost youth through adultery.
This collection, errantly marketed as hilarious, blows away any short story book I read in college. It throws you curves, doesn't end the way you expect. It ends the way the character may end in real life. By changing or not changing, by having something unexpected and unexplainable occur, such as a car accident or cancer. You get the feeling that these are real people instead of archetypes following thier character arc.
Every writer should aspire to this level. Can't wait to read her new book.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on April 9, 2005
Format: Paperback
1. I agree with the other reviews for this book that the "funny" label slapped all over this book is misleading. It's dark tragicomedy.

2. There are definitely some pieces I enjoyed like Best of Betty and Resume. And I enjoyed the way this author describes things. But as far as the content of most of the stories, it felt like a bunch of really well-written but intensely disconnected sketches. There were many times I got to the end of a story and asked, what in the hell was that? What was the point? I don't get it (and yes, I **get** things -- no reviewer should insult other readers who don't like a certain kind of book). Apparently this book speaks to some people but if you like your philosophical fiction in comprehensible format, this book is not for you. I enjoy artistry but not obfuscation. It reminds me of a friend who says really deep things and is so in his own world, and I can tell he's saying something really deep but he's speaking so nebulously that I just don't get it. And I get frustrated and tell him to be clearer and repeat back what I think I'm hearing him say until he confirms that's what he meant. That's what this book is like. Father of Invention...what was that about? It feels like someone trying too hard...like performance art on paper.

3. I will add the disclaimer that I prefer more "storytelling" narrations like the Red Tent by Anita Diamant; She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb; Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs; Life of Pi by Yann Martel; God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. Vonnegut. John Irving. So maybe this book just isn't for me. Just warning people that it may not be for you either if you prefer traditional stories to sketches.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 13, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I tracked down this book after I saw an interview with author David Sedaris where he recommended it. It was well worth the long struggle to find it. If you like writers like Sedaris and A. M. Homes, you will thoroughly enjoy this amazing book of wonderfully crafted short stories.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on December 30, 2002
Format: Paperback
Funny as in "huh" rather than a knee-slapping good time, Jenny and the Jaws of Life is simply a fantastic collection of short stories. Dark and cynical at times (most times, in fact), it's thought-provoking while still being somewhat glib and breezy. Willett is a great talent and I'm so happy this collection is still being offered (or is being offered again, as the case may be).
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By M. Asali on October 23, 2003
Format: Paperback
I'm not going to quote Latin at you or tell you who else I read who's as good as Jincy Willetts but I will say the "Jenny and the Jaws of Life" is probably one of those books which will stay with me always. The narrative voice is so strong that it is actually jarring when one enters the next story and finds it so different. Yes, it is true, some kids do kill their mom and there are ghosts and car accidents and rapes and one really scary phone call in this book but there is also a true recognition of the human impulse to make sense of the senseless and a desire to connect with humanity despite the pain and the cruelty.
Willetts' recognition of the miraculous in even the most small-minded desires is beautiful. Is it funny? Yes, but not always in the way that makes you laugh.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Skyler on December 2, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was never a big fan of short story collections until I picked up Jenny and the Jaws of Life. It's quickly become one of my favorite books of all time (right up there with A Widow for One Year and Mother Night). The stories in it are dark, bizarre and funny. I liked it so much I bought two copies.

After I lent out the first and it was never returned I was more careful. But now the second one's lost as well. I wanted to read the stories again, so I recently bought three copies; two for lending, one for keeping (just to be on the safe side).
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 2, 1995
Format: Hardcover
Do not ignore this book just because you have not heard of the author. Jincy Willett is a writer of prodigious talent. In the same vein as Joseph Heller. The only tragedy is that we have not seen more from this superb author
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By Douglas King VINE VOICE on February 19, 2007
Format: Paperback
Having an endorsement by the hilarious David Sedaris at the top of this book may have been misleading, because this book is not full of the same kind of absurd outrageousness that makes his books such a riot. There is humor in this collection of stories, but overall this book is more of a bittersweet series of character studies of modern people whose lives often take unexpected turns. What I loved about the book is that none of the stories were formulaic or trite at all. The characters all seemed so real and human, full of complicated and conflicting emotions and desires. Some of my favorites included the advice columnist who transforms her corny column into a postmodern confessional, the confused little girl whose therapist father is too quick to label a sociopath, the rape victim who refuses to have a meltdown, and the rich bachelor who falls in love with a uniquely awkward secretary, only to lose her when her new status turns her into a typical society wife. The author treats her characters like sympathetic friends, who she both admires and pities for all their strengths and flaws.
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