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Book Review: Jerks

JERKS by Sara Lippman is a collection of short fiction that bounces between harmlessly fun, erotic, and oddly cathartic. Check out what Lindsay Crandall of IBR has to say about this Mason Jar Press title.

Book Review: Jerks

Reviewed by Lindsay Crandall

18 short stories that bounce between harmlessly fun, erotic, and oddly cathartic.  

Restless teenagers, struggling mothers, frustrated wives: Jerks is a varied collection that cuts to the core of what good short fiction can look like. Varying in length and subject, these stories present a wide array of protagonists all woven together by a void they need to fill.

I think it’s natural to start this discussion with the story that’s linked to this absolute gem of a book cover: “Har-Tru.”

In this story, a tennis mom (Amy) listens to other tennis moms lusting over Simon, their daughters’ tennis teacher, who is shelling out guidance on proper form as well as an array of cliche life lessons. Amy’s daughter even lusts over Simon, quite understandably, while Simon microdoses LSD and pours his heart out to the girls who are trying not to look at his crotch. “Har-Tru” does an excellent job of capturing a tone of the collection, one that can be seen across other short stories, of unapologetic sexuality and humor.

These stories are varied yet connected, especially in their essence of the lives of women and girls. “Charity Case” introduces Janie, whose mom has passed away, while she is preparing to sing Christmas carols at the local mall. The year prior she wore her Star of David while sitting on Santa’s lap and, “instead of dismissing her, he tightened his grip, and said, ‘Jewish girls can want things, too.’” 

The Jerk family in the story “Jerks” makes beef jerky to distribute as gifts for the upcoming holidays. “Every year it is something,” Brian’s nameless wife states, “tins of granola, jars of dill pickles, artisanal yogurt by the biodegradable tub.”  While Brian is trying to successfully move the family off grid, his wife is sleeping in their children’s room, worrying about their son’s weak heart. She starts spring cleaning immediately after Christmas, throwing out everything that the family doesn’t need before climbing into the trash bag herself.

Lippman has both an artful and playful way of weaving her tales, of making the mundane tasks of various women spark with a visceral energy. Not all of the characters are likable, but every one of them feels real, even the ones who remain nameless.

There’s a lot to love in Jerks, from the humor to the lyrical sentences to the dialogue and beyond, but it’s Lippman’s women characters with whom she shines most. She laces tangible reactions with sharp observations of relationship dynamics and the voids these characters fill and create. The balance between selfish and selfless, between wanting and having, are thoughtfully observed with a unique clarity and wit.

Jerks is quick, smooth, and easy reading that’ll leave you thinking about it long after you’ve finished.

Publisher: Mason Jar Press

Genre: Short Story Collections / Literary Fiction / Humor

Print Length: 154 pages

ISBN: 978-1951853105

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