…a closer look at A Jellyfish for Every Name

Behind the Titles: A Closer Look

at A Jellyfish for Every Name by David Rawson

Featuring ELJ Publications’ April Jones and ELJ Author Amber D. Hollinger

April:

What did you think about the opening piece? The strangeness in Moses being obsessed with the ocean and Annie being obsessed with what constitutes a womb keeps you wondering why their science teacher is so focused on the ocean not being a womb. What is their connection?

Amber:

There was indeed a lot of strangeness throughout this intriguing collection – with its various mystical and existential and religious themes; in many moments, juxtaposed with themes of mortality and sexuality and other ‘issues of the flesh’. I definitely agree that this collection was well-crafted, generally smooth, and out of the ordinary. That being said, I enjoyed the opening piece, but it was not my favorite. Overall, I loved the weaving of details and themes, and the narrative, which has a bit of a tidal rhythm, certainly pulls the reader in. However, I thought it was a bit jumpy in certain parts, but I could see how that might have been purposeful as it dealt with a sort of pervasive hastiness of adolescence. The opener has a rather abrupt ending, but perhaps that all was meant to leave the ‘reader wanting more’. It worked for me. I was intrigued by the parallel between the main character’s sort of growing obsession with the ocean and his impending sexual maturity and view of the world, in terms of the birds & bees and reflections about others. Perhaps the point of the science teacher and her words was to serve as a notable outside party who further connects sex / reproduction with oceanic language.  It remains a mysterious part of the Moses journey, for me.

April:

I find that if I connect the first two pieces, even though they are about different characters, it starts to paint a whole picture for me. Which leads me to wonder what you thought of the second piece, “Taking Home The Queen?” In “Taking Home The Queen” you’ve got the twin brothers separated by a day and a skin shade. What did you make of this? Did the flow of the narrative make it easier or harder for you to stay with the piece? I found that the uniqueness in which the story is told helped me to get a better sense of the narrator and the story he was trying to tell. I also thought that by telling it through an unreliable narrator that I sided with all the people Todd left behind.

Amber:

I, too, feel like each piece connects with the others, rather smartly. The collection paints a whole captivating picture : definitely an abstract one. Less Pollock, more Hokusai. It’s as if each of the individual stories could be split apart and re-pieced into one cohesive, still-coherent novella. Viewing it as a unified whole also makes parts of the first piece easier to, ahem, swallow. AHAHAHAAA! Pardon the dirty pun. Because, then, the first story becomes an intro; and so it does not need to be perfectly clean-cut or even likeable—just absorbing.

What I liked best about the second piece was this: I felt as though my brain was bending in order to understand it (which I typically find to be a great thing!). For instance: I was like ‘What is happening here : is the main character quote-unquote crazy?’ ‘Are the twins the same person? Does Todd truly exist? (or is this some crazy Fight Club trick)’ ‘What’s the point of these intertwined, borderline mundane love triangle type anecdotes?!?’ This odd mini-drama totally sucked me in.  I did side with the people Todd left behind and found the few commonalities tying them all together to be fascinating. On the one hand, it was just a fun, weird story about love, lust, and human relationships. BUT. On the other hand, some parts are just written in such unique & striking freestyle that, as the stories go on, the reader sees that anything could be possible with this collection. That is one aspect I loved about the book. Certainly some unexpected literary tricks with this one.

April:

What do you think about the overall tainted religious tone of the first two pieces? For me it had a bit of a modern Flannery O’Connor feel that added to the masculine story being told throughout these two pieces.

Amber:

Hmmm, I have only read a bit of Flannery, but I can understand the comparison. Truly, I both (mostly) was comfortable and (also) was not comfortable with the treatment / incorporation / explanation of religious themes and metaphors in these pieces. For the few places such themes were a tad unattractive to me, I’m sure I’m just being picky, and this could be an area in which we disagree : that’s alright… What I do love about the presentation of these themes and related issues, and I believe it’s worth re-stating, is that they feel blended so smoothly into each piece that, to me, it reads as narratively natural and not overtly biased, however strong or prevalent.

April:

Lastly, the collection’s name sake, A Jellyfish for Every Name we come back to Moses and Annie. This time they are battling in a spelling bee and seem to be a different version of the two characters we met in the opening piece. We also get the addition of the angel Michael and Satan who add twists and turns to the narrative. And, we keep coming back to this twisted religious theme that links this collection together.

Amber:

Okay, so here’s where it gets a bit complicated, and I could have a whole discussion about this collection, BECAUSE I truly liked the book more and more as it went on, and it really came together (waves crashing!) with the third and fifth stories. (I think the fourth one was very appropriately places to bridge the 3rd and 5th,  as it reintroduces and solidifies the naming theme/aspect – while simultaneously teasing readers with more intriguing anecdotes of human relationships and sensuality.) And I found myself thinking about the book for hours after reading it (and contemplating one of its main themes : the idea of connections/conflicts between (the “grandiose”) spirit/soul/divine forces and (the many intricacies of) flesh/mortality/human relations – somehow woven together, rather beautifully and brilliantly, with literal and figurative oceanic & water & earthly fluid anecdotes). For me, it was really best when read all at once, cover to cover. And I would happily read more from this author, especially regarding the above themes.

April:

I liked the connective tissue that made up this collection. It keeps you thinking the whole time, and is full of surprises. It’s an odd read, but the oddity makes it worth the effort.

Amber:

Definitely, definitely agree. This book delivers, but it makes you work for it. Overall: flowing, refreshing, deep, jumpy at times – but mostly pleasantly so. Visceral, fleshy existentialism : terms that kept popping into my mind – mainly when physicality was described in such detail or so purposefully, but never obnoxiously so. The title was absolutely perfect, as it is as odd as the collection and fits with all of the many themes AND it even works as a visual with the collection (clever, clever!). A blurry, somewhat-amorphous-yet-decently-defined head / start with many, many different-yet-same wavy, twisted tales that, at times, move together and at times flail in every possible direction. In the end, the being is beautiful, delightful, moving along in its own constant, peculiar, lovely dance. The reader is willed to watch this dance intently and beckoned to follow.

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