I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.
On the first of each month,
a guest writer
how he or she spends the day.
August 1, 2016: Kristopher Jansma
Kris Jansma’s second novel, Why We Came to the City, which begins with these seductive words, “We came to the city because we wished to live haphazardly,” is perfectly structured in two parts that usher the reader in with insistent, incantatory, almost pleading, first person plural language. A chapter entitled “Why We Came to the City” leads us into the first part and one entitled “Why We Left the City,” into the second. Here’s an excerpt from the former:
Still we lived frantically, like hummingbirds; though our HR departments told us that our commitments were valuable and our feedback was appreciated, our raises would be held back another year. Like gnats we pestered Management—who didn’t know how to use the Internet, whose only use for us was to set up Facebook accounts so they could spy on their children, or to sync their iPhones to their Outlooks, or to explain what tweets were and, more importantly, why— which even we didn’t know. Retire!, we wanted to shout. Get out of the way with your big thumbs and your senior moments and your nostalgia for 1976! We hated them; we wanted them to love us. We wanted to be them; we wanted to never, ever become them.
And then the book gets down to the work of the story it has to tell.
Irene Richmond ran down the narrow foyer, helping guests get out of their coats, which were dusted with flakes of snow that had been coming down heavily all day and still drifted lightly onto the hotel balcony. Coats that cost more than she earned in a month and that were works of art themselves. Hoods lined with fox fur imported from Finland. A quilted sateen coat filled with goose down and patterned in the latest Japanese style of concentric circles. A long vest made of rabbit. Mongolian lamb’s wool.
The New York Times described Why We Came to the City as a “love letter to Manhattan” and gave an excellent scene-setting summary that uncharacteristically does not give the entire book away:
A group of college friends move to New York. An artist salvages a beam from the World Trade Center for a sculpture. A poet writes on a fire escape. An editor and an astronomer get engaged and move into a cheap and small apartment. (How small? The shower is in the kitchen.) Like all 20-somethings, some find happiness and success, some disappear. But, as Jansma writes, ‘the city was so alive that simply walking around in it was a life-support system.”
I first heard the name Kris Jansma back in 2012 when my friend and fellow editor at Hunger Mountain John Proctor suggested we ask Kris if he’d like to write what we referred to as a sideways review–a review that took a different angle to reviewing, a review that refused to conform. Kris wrote a sideways review on David Samuels’s The Runner.
Around this time I began to wonder if I was drawn to liars. How better to learn the craft of fiction than to hang around those who found deception effortless? It was this curiosity about the fine art of lying that drew me toThe Runner by David Samuels. His biography of American con artist James Hogue contains volumes of advice for those of us who wish to spend our lifetimes spinning yarns, embellishing what’s true, and forever reinventing ourselves.
If you’d like a quick example of Kris’s fine story-telling abilities, just check out the Author’s Note to his first novel, The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards. This first novel won the Sherwood Anderson Fiction Award. It also received an Honorable Mention for the PEN/Hemingway Prize, was a finalist for the Prix de l’Inapperçu, and was a Barnes & Noble Discover Pick, an ABA “Indie Next” Choice, an ALA Notable Book, and an Alternate Selection for the Book of the Month Club. It was longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Award for Excellence in Fiction and the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize.
The last words of the Acknowledgements to Why We Came to the City are these:
This book was written in loving memory of my sister, Jennifer, who pushed me first.
You will find a beautiful essay on their relationship here. And then,
Come back on AUGUST 1st to read how KRISTOPHER JANSMA spends his days.