It’s a winter of snow of mythic proportions. Caught in Kierkegaard’s aesthetic stage, Philip Fellows is meanwhile happy to be immured inside with his lover—free to dodge undesirable work—as he seeks continual sensual pleasure. All the while he is being tracked by a mysterious man in black, who eventually informs him he’s in despair. If Philip isn’t ready for Kierkegaard’s second stage, the ethical, he nonetheless becomes captivated by the beauty of a woman who is given to ramping up an ultra-rational, principled approach to the sexual.
Jack Smith’s satirical novel Hog to Hog won the 2007 George Garrett Fiction Prize and was published by Texas Review Press in 2008. His novel Icon was published by Serving House Books in 2014. He has published stories in a number of literary magazines, including Southern Review, North American Review, Texas Review, X-Connect, In Posse Review, and Night Train. His reviews have appeared widely in such publications as Ploughshares, Georgia Review, American Book Review, Prairie Schooner, Mid-American Review, Pleiades, the Missouri Review, and Environment magazine. He has published a few dozen articles in both Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market and The Writer magazine. His creative writing book, Write and Revise for Publication: A 6-Month Plan for Crafting an Exceptional Novel and Other Works of Fiction, was published in 2013 by Writer’s Digest Books. His coauthored nonfiction environmental book entitled Killing Me Softly was published by Monthly Review Press in 2002. Besides his writing, Smith was fiction editor of The Green Hills Literary Lantern, an online literary magazine published by Truman State University, for 25 years.
Jack Smith’s fascinating new novel, Being, may be his “break-out” work. The prose pulls the reader deeper into the narrative with each phrase. One if its most intriguing merits is Smith’s ability to create characters that can’t be pinned down: are they crackpots, or are they serious people? Or are they both all at once? One thinks of Bellow’s King Romilayu; and Nathaniel West can be invoked as well. (There’s a touch of Terry Southern too.) There is much dialogue in this novel, and it is sprightly and meets Richard Yates’ test: “Good dialogue reveals character; even better dialogue reveals more than the speaker might wish known.”
The “square” protagonist Philip (he insists on being called by his formal name) is a magnet to a host of eccentric and beguiling characters, male and female, who insist on bending his ear as they seek to usher him into their often cheerfully absurd view of things—they convert Philip, one might say, as he stumbles about, looking for work: they attempt, often with comic results, to persuade and cajole him to join their dotty legions. They are all “operators,” whether academics, salesmen, charming women, nuts and/or louts. His female characters are particularly beguiling. E. M. Forster notes that fiction’s most salient value is making the reader want to find out “what happens next.” This novel has that virtue—and is hilarious to boot.
—Geoffrey Clark, author of Two, Two, Lily-White Boys, Wedding
in October, and Necessary Deaths
Being is Smith’s third novel, and possibly his best, full of vitality, appetite, and wisdom. Philip, just out of college, sets off to find work, love, and happiness; his progress is as curious as it is tenacious, much like Alice’s in Wonderland. Dialogue is Smith’s forte, and as Philip encounters denizens of the adult world, they speak in varieties of jabberwocky. One is a Professor of Panegyrics at the local university, who wants him to do door-to-door surveys: “Everything is about happiness, Philip, and praise is a key cog, a fundamental mechanism of happiness.” His encounters with women, their boyfriends and ex’s, and a regional sales manager for hunting equipment are similarly muddled. Snowed in for a hotel tryst that lasts ten days, Philip digs out to search for more money and condoms, only to find the woman’s loutish boyfriend in his place when he returns. Peripety prevails. Another woman tells him “I can’t be part of a life that isn’t taking me seriously.” Wiser or not, Philip returns to the Professor’s job finally, and Smith deftly pulls together the novel’s philosophical ideas.
—DeWitt Henry, author of Safe Suicide and Sweet Dreams
Jack Smith’s Being is a raucous existential romp through a proverbial house of mirrors where some, to their delight, will perceive Kierkegaard and/or Heidegger gazing back at them. Philip Fellows, a hapless Everyman who is “running away from nothing,” is on an ill-fated quest for fulfillment through meaningful employment and diverse erotic relationships while engaging with others similarly alienated as to the whys and whats of existence. A trenchant satirist, Smith deftly blends humor with pathos, and throughout the novel Being’s protagonist is shadowed by a stranger garbed in black who when confronted declares, “You are in despair, sir.” The looking glass reflection Fellows cannot escape.
—Dennis Must is the author of several books. The most
recent, Hush Now, Don’t Explain, received the 2014 Dactyl
Foundation Literary Fiction Award. Going Dark: Selected
Stories is forthcoming in 2016 by Coffeetown Press, Seattle,
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