“No really, I actually think you’ll like this.”
I gave my friend the brow, which is the raised left eyebrow I traditionally extend to invoke my incredulousity on any manner of subjects, but mostly harmless “recommendations” (though, over the years I’ve come to call them “insistences”).
“This is the book by that internet guy you’re always watching who does the sarcastic and mean yellow and black stick-man reviews, right?” I posed in the tone.
“Yeah, but I really do think you’ll like it.” His emphasis on the word really really exposing his doubts rather than alleviating them.
But what the heck, I’ll read anything. So I read Jam by a guy named Yahtzee Croshaw. And you know what? I didn’t hate it.
With a cover that’s a throwback to the 80’s science-fiction paperbacks of yore, Jam starts straightforwardly, not wasting time with unnecessary character build-ups or scenic strolls. Right off the bat, the event happens—BANG! Our protagonist, Travis (no last name), wakes up to go to work and discovers that his city has been overrun with flesh-eating strawberry jam (or, something that very much resembles strawberry jam) by watching his roommate Frank slide down a banister to only be promptly slurped. From this point on, the slightly dim but rather good-hearted Travis and a gang of mishmashed survivors struggle to make it in the ever hungry, ever sticky, ever fruity smelling dystopia.
“It was a pleasant, cloudless Brisbane day. The sun beamed cheerfully across the balconies of the vacant flats opposite. I slid the balcony doors aside, and felt the warm breeze play gently on my face. What a lovely day. By now Frank, Frank who was dead, would have reached the gym, probably flirting with the receptionist on his way to the locker room. If he hadn’t been dead, that is.
I kept my gaze focused on the clear blue sky and stepped forward until I could clench my hands around the railing. I took a deep breath. Then I looked down.
The jam had filled the courtyard and foyer and pushed the water out of the swimming pool. Where it touched walls, little tendrils snaked their way upwards like searching fingers. There was an overpowering stench of strawberries.
From my vantage point I could see into some of the ground-floor apartments. All of them were half-filled with jam, the top halves of TVs and stereos poking up like electronic islets. The occupants were nowhere to be seen.”
With a very thick, bulging vein of modern humor coursing throughout the bulk of the book, it isn’t clear whether Croshaw is punching up or down; really, he seems to have just clipped a clothespin over his nose and jumped in. A story of adventure, Jam has gone the horror/whimsical route, taking the morally confusing path of a lot of contemporary adult cartoons which usually end with creators shrugging their shoulders and balking, “It’s not real, so what does it matter? Just laugh it off, folks.” Croshaw does a little better, never taking up the reader’s time to explain his intentions or lack thereof: there’s jam and it loves the taste of organic meaty bits and its everywhere—oh what are our band of woefully unprepared misfits going to doooooo!
Without shame, I will say I’m a tad of a hardsell when it comes to the slapstick, modish comedy of our times; however, I genuinely found a lot of Croshaw’s Jam funny and even found myself laughing out loud during some of the outrageous situations Croshaw throws his characters into. Ultimately, Jam seems to be a novel about regular people, and the swathe-nature of the modern day zeitgeist: when the worst comes to pass, and the layers of the age are concentrated to their purest elements by way of disaster, what will the archetypal materials of our collective be? Croshaw presents a world hellbent on detachment and irony, emotionally stunted by the ratrace, and trapped inside the restrictive bonds of the 40+ hour workweek. He does all this with a big, jovial laugh track, meanwhile people die and behave selfishly, cower and follow obediently, and sometimes, occasionally, something brave and truly meaningful breaks free. Though not nihilistic, there is a smack of irritation from Croshaw. (Whether he is aware of it, this reviewer can’t say.)
The novel breaks down the event (being the Jam Apocalypse) into 9.2 days, which is fairly rare for a sci-fi, taking a narrative path more commonly chosen by mystery and thriller writers. This works well, considering the intensity of the scape Croshaw has chosen, and throughout the days and nights our characters gain and lose, gain and lose, cope with their present situation by way of camcorders, work projects, hope of a New World Order, and (my particular favorite) a parental attachment to a Goliath Birdeater spider named Mary, all the while waddling around in the jam via plastic garbage bags (it is discovered that the jam, for whatever reason, prefers organic carbon-based snacks and does not consume plastic, therefore much of Brisbane is conveniently spared) and navigating a sailboat from cursory colony to cursory colony, everyone having gone loony from the surprise of flesh-gobbling jam showing up. Some individuals seem to go mad with power (or, mad with potential power) and others grip their fingers around the idea that none of this is permanent or really even happening, spending all their cognitive energies avoiding the very real sticky hungry blob outside. Where the jam-blob came from, no one seems to know, but a few set out to find the inception point, and a couple have secrets that they’re refusing to share.
The book tumbles into a bit of a of Schusterfleck, with the same notes being played over and over again higher and higher until at last the crescendo pops. Ending abruptly, and on a rather bittersweet chord, Croshaw closes up shop. It’s a good enough conclusion, a satisfying enough wrap, and I have no qualms with it. All and all, Yahtzee Croshaw’s book surprised me. Though this reader prefers the lacy, filigreed writing of the late 19th, early 20th centuries, Croshaw’s direct modern style operated perfectly for his humorous, strawberry-preserved tale, mapping the places and plots expertly and rendering fine characters, one-dimensional as they were.
Without further ado, Jam delivers. It’s fun, fast-paced, and is a refreshing turn away from much that currently sits on the science-fiction/fantasy shelf. So go give it a try. This YouTube reviewer has punched out a good book, and this long time reader sends her regards: I liked it!
3 and ½ stars for Yahtzee Croshaw’s Jam. And, I think—maybe—I’ll be more open to my friend’s recommendations from here on.
Now, let’s all go watch The Blob.
The featured image is of the 1958 indie classic film The Blob, directed by Irvin Yeaworth and starring 1960’s bad-boy heartthrob Steve McQueen. According to Wikipedia, “The storyline concerns a growing, corrosive, alien amoeboidal entity that crashes to Earth from outer space inside a meteorite. It devours and dissolves citizens in the small communities of Phoenixville and Downingtown, PA, growing larger, redder, and more aggressive each time it does so, eventually becoming larger than a building.” – As always, thank you.