Waste Books- "Jernigan" by David Gates
Reading Jernigan is like stepping into the mind of a middle-aged man fraught in a tunneling psychosis so abysmally dark, that even the most enthusiastic PTA members would start wishing the titular Jernigan would do more than entertain his self-destruction and snuff out his candle burning at both ends. The protagonist Jernigan fathers, drinks, lusts, maims, remembers, drinks, fucks, hates, forgets and drinks his days away, not so fond about the past or the future or – really anything at all.
David Gates’ novel climbs into late Reagan era America and manhandles the reigns of the period, limning a mal de siècle vibe that adroitly fits accessible reading with the sort of lofty postmodern malaise you expect from the involuted phrasing of a Beckett or Burroughs. You’ll often get subtle nods to figures like Pound and Eliot, but the modernist canon is never a prerequisite for comprehension and serves as a bonus for discovering Jernigan’s attachment to the suffering that art invariably entails. Jernigan is a page-turner and while clocking in at 240 pages, the six-month time-span of the novel reads like the study of a Polaroid or a lost and crackly VHS tape, the one where you see your dad as the barely contained manic-depressant, only kept from a nervous breakdown thanks to an interminable supply of 7-Elven beer and belts of Canadian whisky.
The zeitgeist is not too far from our own and the deluge of motifs ranging from prescription drugs, alcohol, guns, infidelity, xenophobia, sexual abuse, and consumerism frames the American Dream as a mere chimera, its obtainment only made possible through rose-colored glasses or a detested safe and stable upbringing that would only make you another asshole in Jernigan’s eyes. Much of the story plays into our fate as not just people, but as Americans, as consumers, as the sons and daughters of our father and the mothers or fathers of our children. Jernigan seems to be looking for a way out of the karmic cycle, but it’s hard to say how hard and if there’s something to be valorized in his pure nihilism and dissatisfaction with living in the Greatest Country in the World.
Whether you can’t manage to get out of bed due to a quotidian micro-existential crisis, or find yourself so deeply addicted to something that functionality is impossible without it, Jernigan will intone a dark message of empathy. For the arty, the depressed, or the bored, the narrative takes readers into the dark heart of a plasticized culture unwilling to speak what it feels and opens the scar tissue of wounds we sometimes forget in order to survive but need exposed in order to live.
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Podcast Produced by Phillip Griffin