With John Jodzio’s If You Lived Here You’d Already Be Home, Replacement Press, whose mission statement declares their reason for existence being a belief that “the next generation, our generation (Gen Y, Millennials) has not just something to say, but brilliant writers to say it,” boldly announces its arrival to the current Indie Lit scene. And though at 36 Jodzio falls at the far end of the Millennial spectrum, his work nonetheless dovetails with the majority of the tenets espoused by Andrew and Sarah De Young, Replacement Press’s founding duo.
If You Lived Here You’d Already Be Home, which contains work previously featured in a wide range of literary magazines and journals, most notably The Florida Review, One Story and Opium, consist of 21 pieces crocheted together to form an intricate lattice of tales. Jodzio’s prose recalls the stylings of Ann Beattie and Lorrie Moore, yet If You Lived Here takes what is familiar to both and injects it with a contemporary freshness. There is nothing stale here. Jodzio’s writing is vigorous, sparse and pointed, yet beautiful. Each new sentence seems to jump from the final word of the former, creating a veritable leapfrog effect that pulls the reader through stories possessing a powerful sense of urgency. These are tales that must be read, and must be read now.
From the opening story, “The Bog Body,” where two boys prospecting for golf balls in a wetland adjacent to a golf course discover an excellently preserved young woman clad in a “blazer or something that held a shitload of buttons on it… a long skirt, and a pair of boots with a large heal,” Jodzio trains the reader to expect a world a world just left of center, for his universe is fractured. The bog woman is most likely one of the many “whores and heathens strung up by the locals because they didn’t believe in the right God. Or because they didn’t believe in God the right way,” an appropriate tongue-in-cheek introduction to a book filled with eccentrics who all seem to possess some odd neurosis—many of his characters have a fascination with swallowing objects—and nearly every story seems to contain someone rendered motherless by either death or divorce, which at times seems as much a throwaway detail as it does a tacit explanation for the character’s current mental state and behavior.
Death, or the approach of it, abounds in If You Lived Here, yet the collection is far from morbid, and is, in fact, quite funny, as Jodzio’s dark wit and pithy humor offer a pitch-perfect balance to scenes that, in the hands of a lesser writer, would verge on the sentimental, the cliché or the plain mean. Jodzio’s reality is a cruel one, but he is not a writer who revels in this cruelty; rather he respects his characters, and manages to find beauty in even the most dire moments, to elicit empathy towards some of the most frigid beings imaginable.
In “The Egg,” Jodzio presents a spoiled young boy, Scott, whose father is a wealthy currency trader and whose mother and older brother have both died. Early on, Scott discovers a button under his father’s desk that, when pressed, causes a phone to ring. He does this repeatedly, amazed at how there is no one on the other end of the line. And while at times the rather petulant Scott, who spends most of the story lighting things on fire, aimlessly paddling around the marshes of a heron preserve and terrorizing his nanny, Rosarita, seems repulsive to readers, Jodzio offers scene after scene in which the boy’s attempt to speak with his father is curtailed by the sudden ringing of the phone and the father’s faux-apologetic “Sorry Champ, but I’ve got to take this.”
Jodzio’s work is an eclectic mix. If You Lived Here is composed both of vignettes—subtle snapshots of consciousness—and long, winding tales rich with layers of complexity. And despite belonging to a generation of writers that, in the past, has shown itself in love with snarky, ironic storytelling saturated with manufactured ennui, If You Lived Here is honest and unafraid to dip into emotionality. His voices are confident, and Jodzio possesses an uncanny ability to conjure the perfect image, however odd or offbeat it might first appear, to paint the moment at hand. In “Inventory,” he succinctly describes a character’s bed-head as looking “like when a helicopter comes down suddenly in high grass, pushed out in spots, flattened down in others.”
There is no solipsistic musing in Jodzio, no dorm-room philosophizing, no attempts at waxing poetic. Only the grit and the dirt. The thin veneer that attempts to mask the painful truth that the characters of his world are horrifyingly and utterly alone.
“Gravity,” a second person story that takes as its subject a man obsessed with dropping coins on those below the window of his 18th story office, follows the rehashing of the volatile and quasi-violent sex-life between him and his wife Jeannie, who “liked sex from high places. On top of tables, suspended over staircases,” and who, after “You,” in a crazed moment of irrationality, dropped her, said “That was really hot,” and then demanded “You” do it again.
The choice of the second person for “Gravity” is an odd one, since the trapping of the reader in the character’s consciousness doesn’t necessarily offer anything that an “I” narrator couldn’t give it, but Jodzio navigates masterfully through the story. From the inception of “You’s” dropping of Jeannie to his ultimate refusal to continue, Jodzio offers only the slightest hints as to the cause of Jeannie’s current bedridden state, until the pressure is released in the sudden outpouring, “Sometimes at night though, lying in bed, you can’t get the thought of her with that other man out of your head, the science teacher from her school, the one who you met at the hospital… the one who was with her when she fell that last time and didn’t get up.”
Despite all of its merits, though, If You Lived Here You’d Already Be Home is not without its flaws. Its arrangement is a bit muddled. The book could easily jettison a few of its shorter pieces, as these vignettes do little to advance the overall stature of the collection and almost pull attention away from their more deserving companions. Moreover, the placing of “Flight Path,” the most epic of all If You Lived Here’s stories, and arguably the strongest, most telling example of Jodzio’s ability as a writer, second sets the bar of expectation at a level that the subsequent pieces flirt with, but which they never quite achieve. Because often, like the father in “The Egg,” Jodzio truncates his stories too quickly, shies away from the big moment and fails to cash in on the intricate, powerful and tense situations he’s crafted, which leaves the reader to feel as though they’ve been allowed to preview the inner most sanctums of his characters lives, but that the shades have been drawn on them just when the most important or transitional moment of that life is about to occur.
Perhaps that is his intention, yet it feels coy, a trick, an unfulfilled promise since, as is the case in “Flight Paths,” when Jodzio allows his stories room to breathe and follows them down the quirky, compelling and darkly humorous trail they blaze, he soars brilliantly. All of this leaves one to wonder what an already solid collection would be if Jodzio allowed each of his stories the scope, time and attention that “Flight Paths” received. Still, this is an impressive debut from a writer commanding the world take note of his presence, one who, if Replacement Press has their way, will be at the head of a line of new voices ready to usher in a vibrant and new literary milieu.