"People are bullets, fired," the narrator declares in one of the desperate, eerie stories that make up Greg Jackson's Prodigals. He's fleeing New York, with a woman who may be his therapist, as a storm bears down. Self-knowledge here is no safeguard against self-sabotage. A banker sees his artistic ambitions laid bare when he comes under the influence of two strange sisters. A midlife divorcée escapes to her seaside cottage only to find a girl living in it. A journalist is either the guest or the captive of a former tennis star at his country mansion in the Auvergne.
Jackson's sharp debut drills into the spiritual longing of today's privileged elite. Adrift in lives of trumpeted possibility and hidden limitation, in thrall to secondhand notions of success, the flawed, sympathetic, struggling characters in these stories seek refuge from meaninglessness in love, art, drugs, and sex. Unflinching, funny, and profound, Prodigals maps the degradations of contemporary life with unusual insight and passion--from the obsession with celebrity, to the psychological debts of privilege, to the impotence of violence, to the loss of grand narratives.
Prodigals is a fiercely honest and heartfelt look at what we have become, at the comedy of our foibles and the pathos of our longing for home.
Privileged characters confront the spiritual emptiness of contemporary life in this deeply felt and sparklingly erudite debut collection. In "Wagner in the Desert," a writer joins a cadre of young professionals "sustainability experts, P.R. lifers... that strange species of human being who has invented an app" on a drug-fueled trip to Palm Springs, Calif., only to find himself deflated by "regret that we had grown self-knowing enough to avoid our mistakes." In "Serve-and-Volley, Near Vichy," a different writer comes under the spell of a tennis legend whose celebrity may or may not have made him insane. In "Metanarrative Breakdown," the star of the collection, a visit by the narrator to his dying grandfather becomes an occasion for a contemplation of narrative and language: "All the words we had for everything added up to a cataloged death sentence of the discrete," he thinks, "turning the raw matter of experience transactionable at the cost of making experience itself inaccessible." Jackson's exquisite insight and mandarin prose style call to mind David Foster Wallace and Ben Lerner, but his preoccupation with the demise of romance, wonderment, and spirituality in our hyper-knowing age seems entirely his own. "It was not so much information that lay beyond my reach," one character thinks, "as a sort of presence, of shared and consummate openness, a kind of psychic nudity."