Friday, June 25, 2010

Jernigan by David Gates

About, oh, a decade ago, give or take a few years (probably give), I finally got to reading Catcher in the Rye. I wasn't required to read it in high school, and in those days, if it wasn't Tolkien or a Dragonlance book, I wasn't doing much outside the requisite (I was a cool dude).

This was at a point in my life when I was really filling the "jaded and disillusioned late-teens-early-twenties" role quite well, changing schools, majors, thinking about moving, all that jazz (good to see I've matured so much, and have changed). So Catcher struck a particular chord with me, as it has with probably 80%+ of those who read it, and became one of my favorite books.

Why all this lead-up? Well, I'm now a nearly-30 disenchanted fellow, who has developed a taste for beer and fine liquors, especially gin. And, well, that starts the description of the narrator of Jernigan, Peter Jernigan. Sure, he's a little older, and lives with his son, his girlfriend, and her mom, he lost his job a year after his wife died, and he's MUCH more self-destructive, but, I can't help but feel some kinship there. Probably more than a little forced on my end. But still.

I won't go through too much of the plot, because really, I think each and every one of you should read it for yourself. Basically, Jernigan is floundering through life. And he doesn't care. He lives in New Jersey suburbia with a son who tolerates him as far as he has to, a woman who (minus the rabbits that she keeps and slaughters herself) these days would probably be classified as freegan, and her possibly abused, definitely drug-abusing daughter (who is dating Peter's son. Got it?). Quite the picturesque family. Throw in Peter's penchant for popping Pamprin chased with gin, and you start to get the idea. He is at once both self-righteous and self-loathing. As a friend described it, "It's the washing away of standards and expectations and walking off a cliff with a drunken smirk." I can't think of a better way to describe it. And as far as relating to the character, the same said fellow says, "It's fucking beautiful. Somehow, I feel, Peter Jernigan and I stand at a crossroads, doing doubletakes. Have we met? Oh yes, we have." Really, I should just have him write this review for me.

Told with flashbacks of Peter and his wife, or Peter's misadventures with his best friend Uncle Fred, Jernigan gives a personal, first-hand look through the "anti-hero's" eyes at how he's gotten to where he is, and gives glimpses of his bleak future. This book has been compared to Catcher in the Rye by most of the reviews I've read (including my own), for damn good reasons. Both narrators are sort of feeling their ways through life. Neither really have a "home" home, but wander aimlessly, calling on old acquaintances, looking for some cheap thrills while in New York City, avoiding their family, or what substitutes for a family. (ok, so I'm a little over generalizing here, come on, give me some slack. This is my first time "writing" in months) Had Holden Caulfield been a few decades later, would he have become Peter Jernigan? Well, probably not. Jernigan is from consequences. Holden didn't seem as self-destructive, and not nearly as pessimistic. (Holden gets upset seeing "Fuck You" scratched into a wall. Jernigan probably put it there)

As things start to spiral out of control, the last few chapters get pretty brutal, uncomfortable, and awkward, but in a beautiful, chaotic way. To say it gets wrapped up neatly is probably a bald-faced lie, but I can't think of a better ending. Makes sense? Good. Read it for yourself. It's funny, depressing, at times hopeful, and ultimately leaves you sort of numb, but in the best possible way. Promises.

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