Ed. note: Earlier this summer, Mason Jar Press released a trio of novellas, culled from an open-call non-themed submission. The three chosen stand on their own as rich characters studies about three uniquely defined characters — a rebellious teen, an idealistic millennial, and an uncomfortably settled middle-aged woman — while also creative a narrative arc that examines maturation and the trials encountered through it. The full set is available for purchase on their website, as well as each individual title as detailed below.
By Jaime Fountaine
80 Pages, $12.00
Review by AnnaLee Barclay
Playing Manhunt isn’t all that fun unless you’re really good at it, which requires knowing when to run and when to stay put. It’s a specific form of survival that often comes from familiarity with escapism. The thirteen-year-old unnamed narrator in Jaime Fountaine’s fierce novella is really good at Manhunt, often the lone female hiding from a pack of neighborhood boys until they give up and she wins. The game sets up the story with an astonishingly perfect framework the rest of the narrator’s coming-of-age summer exists within — there is the thrill of being hunted and chased, the necessity of carrying yourself through danger, loneliness in the dark, knowing when to give in or when to resist the temptation, and acute awareness of your physical body — both where it fits into and who is after it.
Fountaine’s narrator is a sharp observer, often making witty and dry remarks, though these are usually kept within her own mind because, as she puts, “Having friends requires so much pretending.” As she does while playing Manhunt, she spends the summer hiding herself in quiet and background spaces as a form of protection — she hides the fact that she’s been hooking up with a boy her friend likes, she tries to be inconspicuous to hide that she doesn’t have spare pocket money given to her by a parent, and she expresses desire to be able to hide her physical body as it undergoes development. Only last summer did she still feel the freedom of being a child, not a girl, not a teenage girl who suddenly has the desirous attention from boys and men and the jealous attention from her mother. Manhunt is a dark, nostalgic bildungsroman that explores the specific pain of that first suburban summer in which a girl must learn survival as she comes to the realization that the hunt for her has begun and there is no going back now.
All Friends Are Necessary
by Tomas Moniz
61 Pages, $12.00
Review by Jeff Gilliland
In the 21st century, teenage angst often lasts through one’s thirties. For those of us born into an overheating world, who came of age during a time of joblessness and confusion, it can sometimes feel like our lives are still waiting to start.
Tomas Moniz captures this feeling in All Friends Are Necessary. The story follows Chino — a queer, liberal, Hispanic hipster with a penchant for heavy metal — as he returns home to San Francisco “like some prodigal child” on the eve of his thirty-third birthday. Over the course of a month, Chino reunites with old friends, romances new ones, and reckons with his alcoholic past as he prepares for an unforeseeable future.
In tracing Chino’s journey from downtrodden to optimistic, Moniz highlights and satirizes the knots of progressivism and pointlessness that Millennials often tie themselves in. Seeking purpose, Chino forms a feminist book club with his friends and organizes an act of literary-inspired protest art — yet he also acknowledges his “ignorant and privileged” position as he bikes past homeless encampments around the city. Seeking love, he bonds with both Leila and Terrance while reminiscing about Parker, his non-binary ex-lover. Seeking sobriety, he strives not to drink even though “something in [him] feels bereft.” Throughout the novella, Moniz’s prose drips with the sincerity and sarcasm of a time when “nothing quite works. Everything feels a bit off. But also significant.”
Ultimately, Chino’s quest is one that many of us share: to find his “desire path,” his own way through life and his role in what Moniz calls the “necessary conversation of how to create a better world.” And in All Friends we recognize that though we may not get all the way there, it’s important to get started — as Chino’s favorite spin instructor says at his farewell class, “In times like these, it’s the little things we need to celebrate.”
By Nicole Callahan
90 Pages, $12.00
Review by Elliott Turner
In The Couples, Nicole Callahan beautifully weaves together narratives of intense passion with heartfelt grief, through the past and present of Julia, who struggles to enjoy her solidly upper middle class life in NYC. At her 42nd overnight birthday party in Connecticut, she feels neglected by her workaholic husband, and considers hooking up with a friend’s sleazy husband — one of the guests. At various times throughout the weekend, she recalls her teenage years in the Oklahoma panhandle. At times, she is thrilled to recall the excitement when she pursued and dated an older man. In other moments, she is melancholic about having to end an unwanted pregnancy and then the tragic sudden death of her significant other.
Like John Updike or Philip Roth, Callahan explores middle class Americana and marital relationships with verve and keen insight into how monogamy works for some and not for others. As individuals grow over the course of a marriage, passion ebbs and flows. Julia keenly feels peaks and valleys, yet her husband does not. And their inability to talk about it could spell the end of what they have.
Callahan oscillates between these episodes adeptly. Julia’s younger years are full of highs and lows that have dynamic contrast to her monotonous, maintained marriage where motherhood feels like a chore. Callahan’s exceptional sense of setting emphasizes this dichotomy. During a pivotal moment at the party, a hair-splitting Nor’easter comes roaring in and forces everybody inside. The storm contrasts with a flashback in which Julia recalls the never-ending cloudless Oklahoma panhandle sky, so expansive it felt like a weight.
Ultimately, The Couples is a complex story of overcoming loss, but not confusing complacency for happiness. Julia has come a long way since Oklahoma, but still has a ways to go to be truly content.