Set in a bombed-out cityscape, Jeff Jackson’s haunting new novella Novi Sad follows a group of friends who take up residence in an abandoned hotel as they await the end of the world.
This melancholic dream story is filled with mysterious disappearances, floating corpses and decaying memories. Though a standalone work, Novi Sad is also a sister book to Jeff Jackson’s acclaimed novel Mira Corpora.
“In a time when it’s hard to say if the apocalypse is happening or still to come, Jeff Jackson gives us a tale that blurs the lines between our many possible fates. Novi Sad forces us to examine the consequences of adults who’ve run the world like children and in their folly left the world to children made to live in the rags of dignity they’ve stripped from the corpses about them. At once magisterial and decrepit, heartening and glum, this book will make you consider the power of our shadows, and of their dangers, too. The places of our imaginations, Jackson reminds us, are often so much more than real.” — D. Foy, author of Made to Break and Patricide
100 page book, paperback, printed on blue paper.
Available now www.kiddiepunk.com
LINKS TO A FEW REVIEWS:
Jeff Jackson interviewed by Thomas Moore about Novi Sad
THOMAS MOORE: I’ll start with the most common and awkward question that I get asked as a writer, when people find out I’ve written something new: What is it about? I think that the author mostly has a very different take on a text when summarizing it than a reader does, and I’m interested in hearing how you would briefly sum up Novi Sad to someone.
JEFF JACKSON: In the broadest plot terms, it’s about a group of kids coming together in an abandoned hotel to wait for the end of the world. It’s also about the unraveling of basic societal bonds and close personal relationships, and figuring out how to live in the ruins during an age of maximum destruction.
TM: Straight away and I mean within minutes of starting reading the book, I was struck by dialogue which I felt bore a direct relation to film. Lines like “It’s time to head straight into the heart of the annihilation,” and “We’ve got the chance, to create our own perfect finale.” These lines and others, especially a few spoken by Muriel towards the end of the book, feel dramatic and kind of suggest cadence that feels powerful and staged in a precise way, out of the every day. It made me want to know about the relationship between cinema and Novi Sad. Were films a specific influence – if so, which ones and how? It also made me think about the fact that you have worked in theatre – do you think this has had an effect on your fiction?
JJ: I love film, so there’s no question that’s filtered into my writing. But the main reason the dialogue is more dramatic is because the characters, especially Hank, are more theatrical. Hank’s a ringleader, a schemer, someone who’s always dramatizing his own life and the lives of those around him. Some of the other kids also have moments when they’re performing, even though their audience is only one another. This is especially true for Muriel and the narrator, who are both creating and contributing to a drama they don’t entirely understand.
My theater work and fiction share many of the same themes and impulses. But strangely enough, my recent plays have increasingly employed less and less dialogue. My last piece Vine of the Dead was a series of ritual gestures aimed at contacting the spirits of the ancestors. It had more elements of performance art and installation art than typical theater. The text was mostly monologues and ritualistic instructions rather than people conversing.
TM: The synopsis on the Kiddiepunk website states that Novi Sad is a sister book to your novel, Mira Corpora. Could you talk about their relationship? From an outsider’s point of view, I feel like one way they link is how place is used. Both books seem to use the environment and setting as a very important character in its own right – as present and carved out as the people in the books. In Novi Sad, the haunted city and decaying rooms feel like living and breathing entities – lonely souls unable to fully connect with those who temporarily inhabit them. Landscapes suffer violence and are left wounded; they feel equivalent to the corpses strewn within them.
JJ: Many sections of Novi Sad were written at the same time as Mira Corpora and were included in any early draft of that novel. These versions proved too wooly and surreal to make the final cut, but the basic material sprung from that same universe.
I radically reworked this material to make it stand on its own for Novi Sad, but the books still share some characters – though they’ve taken on slightly different forms. Environment and setting are hugely important connections as well. There are images and themes that echo across the books: bodies found in rivers, possible supernatural occurrences, dogs, pills, erotic paintings, etc. And both books present stories that are being self-consciously reconstructed and refashioned from old memories.
TM: Actually, having thought about that last question my brain is making comparisons with how place is used in the writing of Alain Robbe-Grillet. Specifically I’m thinking about his novel, Jealousy and how that book is just consumed by place and the mapping out of buildings and rooms. I don’t think I’ve spoken with you about Robbe-Grillet before but there feels to be a definite link between your respective works – especially when it comes to the role of place and setting.
JJ: I love Robbe-Grillet! I’m flattered he came to mind. Jealousy is one of my favorites. It’s a perfect novel. Reading Robbe-Grillet’s fiction – and watching his films – has made me think more concretely about place and how that can affect the characters and play an important dramatic role in itself. Part of reworking the original material for Novi Sad was more thoroughly mapping out and exploring the layout of the blue hotel where the kids stay throughout the book. I’m also obsessed with Robbe-Grillet’s use of repetitions and rhyming images. He’s masterful on many levels.
TM: Now this is a question that I wasn’t really sure how to word – but I want to know about how the “real” world has impacted upon the writing of Novi Sad. As in, were you conscious of parallels that one could make between what some see as a certain type of chaos specific to this point in time and the chaos that is contained with your new book? It’s strange because the world created in Novi Sad – like that in Mira Corpora – feels very unique to itself and hermetic in a way – it’s this fully formed organism that operates in itself – but the crumbling cities and dying people within them – there are echoes of the world that you the writer is living in … I don’t know if political is quite the right word but … Did it feel like the real world was playing into your fictional world in a direct way?
JJ: The real world definitely impacts my fiction. The raw urban landscapes I’ve lived in, world events like 9/11 I’ve witnessed and ones that I’ve watched on television, local scenes of kids in distress – it all feeds into the work. But it gets actively filtered and reimagined into something that’s more heighted, stylized, and like you said, hermetic. I’m glad you can see recognizable echoes of the world we inhabit in both books. That’s important to me. Those echoes in Novi Sad feel much stronger now than when I drafted the original version. And sure, in a larger sense, this process is also political.
TM: Do you have a set writing routine? How did you write Novi Sad?
JJ: I wish I had more of a set routine. For Novi Sad, a big part of the process was reacquainting myself with material that had been set aside for many years. I’d written another full-length novel since I last looked at these pages. It took me a while to reconnect with my original impulses and figure out what I needed to do to make these episodes stand on their own and tell a single cohesive story. I scribbled a lot of notes and embarked on a few lurching false starts before things began to fall into place.
TM: Could you talk a little bit about the structural workings of Novi Sad? I love how the final Appendix section of the book serves as a final, deep dissection of what’s happened – the almost clinical implications of that kind of section of a book end up perversely have a tremendously emotional impact.
JJ: I’m happy the appendix had that impact on you. I’m interested finding different ways to tell stories that still include emotion and excitement. Novi Sad is structured so there are large gaps between each section that the reader has to negotiate for themselves and fill in what happened. The final gap leads to the appendix which describes photographs the narrator has collected of his absent friends. You get a snapshot of them that captures one fleeting moment, but hopefully that moment resonates. I’m drawn to the possibilities of things like appendixes, author notes, indexes, dedications, etc. to deliver unexpected types of information. Despite what often fills mainstream fiction, literature remains full of possibilities.
Some of Michael Salerno’s artwork featured in Novi Sad.
WE GATHER AT THE DOCKS before dawn to watch them dredge the river for floaters. Sure enough, there’s a new one every day. We stand along the concrete pier while the rest of the city sleeps. It’s so early the sun isn’t stirring below the horizon. The light is a diffuse combination of distant streetlamps and nearby stars. The smell of seaweed and sewer backwash tickles the nose. Wavelets of brackish water gently kick against the pilings. The faint rattle of a boat’s engine echoes as it approaches shore. Markus says: “They’re late.” Lena says: “Maybe it’s a different crew.” Rupesh half-sings: “Old man river, he keep on rolling.” Blue remains silent. She seems asleep on her feet, features obscured beneath a hooded sweatshirt, a triangle of pink tongue stuck between her lips. But if you look closely, her left eyelid twitches uncontrollably.
Everyone is on edge before the boat arrives. I softly practice my birdcalls, trying to lure some seagulls out of the inky haze. Markus punches me in the arm and whispers to shut the fuck up. We’re the only ones on the dock this morning. Some of us haven’t slept and others are half-stuck inside whatever fleeting dreams we managed to conjure. As the battered trawler pulls alongside the pier, the captain idles the motor and greets us with a businesslike nod. The crew raises the nets and sets about sorting the last load of refuse. It’s usually some unsightly combo of trash salvage, auto parts, and toxic paraphernalia. Rarely produces much drama. The day’s corpse is already stacked on deck.
We hold our breath as two sailors unload the body. They crouch on either side of the corpse, one grabs the shoulders and the other the feet, and count to three. Instinctively I pinch my nostrils. Lena shields her face. Markus bites his lower lip. Rupesh whistles through his teeth. Blue spreads her eyes wide to take in everything.
The body is ghostly pale, water-logged, wrapped in a strands of kelp. It resembles most of the others – serious bloat, pervasive spots of purplish gray mold, pasty skin peeling off in layers like old wallpaper. The most alarming feature is the cloudy eyes. They resemble a raw and slimy delicacy, two fresh jewels set in a side of decomposing meat.
The sailors lay the floater flat on the pier. A palpitation shoots through our lungs that might be described as a sigh of relief. The shriveled body is too old. This is an elderly woman with close-cropped steel gray hair, tattered black dress clinging to her sorry form, tarnished copper chain looped around her sagging neck. Somebody’s grandmother, maybe. Markus tells Lena that it’s okay to look. We stand silently over the body for a minute out of a theoretical sense of decency for the generalized loss. The moral protocol here is pretty murky. We feel grateful, mostly.
We slip away while the crew unloads the more mundane cargo. Lena wraps her arm around Blue’s shoulder and gives a quick squeeze. “I knew it was a false alarm,” Rupesh murmurs. We walk through the old fish market, which has been razed flat except for a few wooden stalls heaped high with cod. A crowd of children stand under a sodium lamp, their fingers prodding the piles of white bellies.
Nobody speaks Hank’s name, but we each nurse our private theories about his disappearance as we walk up the main artery that leads away from the waterfront. The asphalt beneath our feet has eroded to cobbles. Intermittent street lamps offer flashes of our faces while concealing the sprawling cavities of rubble that line the street.
As we head toward Novi Sad, the sky’s deep hues begin to lighten….
p.s. Hey. Today the blog has the immense pleasure of doing its small part to help usher Jeff Jackson’s — aka, to blog familiars, Chilly Jay Chill’s — new novella Novi Sad into the widest possible world. If you haven’t yet scored yourself a copy, please rectify that absence, and, in any case, do enjoy exploring the book’s ins and outs and backstories. Thanks! ** Jamie McMorrow, Hey, Jamie! Cambridge was/is a funny place, from what I got to see of it, which was basically the sprawling campus and its fringes. Cool, awesome that the post coincided with your internal world a little. My weekend was pretty uneventful except in parts but pretty A-okay. So, are you in Edinburgh still? How and what was the Beuys exhibit? Hope you had or are having a ton of fun there or here! Love, me. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi, David. I am, to some degree. I did an Ulli Lommel post here some time time back, and I think it had some of his horrors in there. Unfortunately, due to Google’s act of murder, that post is in an uncheckable shambles until I inevitably restore it. I hope you had a lovely weekend! ** Steevee, Hi, Steve. Okay, I’ll send you that link. Thanks! And how were those films? Busy sounding, in the good way, weekend you had there. ** Bill, Hi, Bill! Ha, well, since I didn’t see anything about the unattended bag incident on the news, I’m guessing it contained someone’s underwear. No, I weirdly did not take a single photo the entire time I was in the UK, which is quite unlike me. Oops. No, I never did end up seeing ‘It Follows’, very strangely. I keep forgetting that my TV has Netflix on it, but I’ll open it and see if ‘IF’ is there, which seems like a fairly good bet. ** Nemo, Hi, J. Oh, well, my pleasure, sir. Yeah, I didn’t get your email? ** Frederick Maheux, Hello, greetings, welcome to here! I just used the link and saw a bit of the interview video, and I’m definitely intrigued, and, of course would love to see ‘Ana’. You can get to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you very much! ** H, Hi. Busyness, yes, I can relate and commiserate. I always keep busy but I’ve never been this busy and loaded up projects before ever. May we both not only succeed but survive. Oh, okay, I’ll avoid instant ramen. I knew about the lack of vegetarian packaged ramen options, and I actually checked my local health food store the other day just in case, but nope. ** Ferdinand, Hey. Wow, nice adds, man. I know Richard Kern’s films, but most of the others are total news to me. I do know ‘Beyond the black rainbow’, and, yeah, it’s a sweetie. I’ll use the appropriate links when I’m freed of the p.s. in just a while. Thanks a lot again! ** Liquoredgoat, Hey there! Good to see you, buddy! How’s Arizonian tricks? I am currently, albeit quite gradually, reading ‘In The Deep’, and liking it very much, of course. Yeah, my true loves amongst Guyotat’s work are the really dense, hallucinatory books like ‘Eden Eden Eden’, the slice of ‘Prostitution’ that got published some while back, and ‘Tomb …’, but apparently those books of his are immensely difficult to translate to the point where doing even one of them would amount to a translator’s life work or something, or so I’m told, so the ‘easier’ ones are getting English-ized instead. And I like and admire those books a lot, but, yeah, I crave more of the really ‘difficult’ ones. How are you finding ”ITD’? ** Dóra Grőber, Hi, Dóra! Thanks, it’s nice to be back. Yeah, I’m a person who doesn’t really enjoy being the center of attention. It weirds me out. But, at the same time, it’s pretty amazing to have people so interested in my work, and, in the case of the Sussex event, it was wonderful because my interlocutor was super smart and great, and the students asked and said very interesting things. So it was a total honor, and, ultimately, even a real personal pleasure. I read some pieces from my book ‘Ugly Man’. The pieces in that book are pretty straightforward, relatively speaking, for my work, and that makes reading them feel less like a huge compromise than when I’m asked to read from my novels, for instance. Great that you have enough stuff to be able to work on the body of your thesis. How is that going? Is it more or less difficult than you had imagined? My weekend was good. Saw a couple of really good friends who were visiting from Barcelona. A little work. Some prep stuff related to the upcoming film showings and the forthcoming gif novel. It was fine. Zac is going through the music video footage, and I think we’ll start editing it properly this week. How was your weekend? How are you today? ** Kyler, Hi, K. Oh, yeah, I came across that weird, cool Bosch animation video the other day. Thanks a bunch for the alert. ** MANCY, Hi, Steven. ‘Night of the Lepus’ is kind of low grade psycho/dumb in a good way. New GIF cycle! Awesome! Of course I would love to see any of it. And I’m hugely intrigued and bated in the breath department about your audio work with Mark. Whoa. Can you, like, describe it, if that’s interesting? ** Chris dankland, Hi, Chris! Cool, glad the horror things hit your spots. I’m, needless to say, thrilled that you’re focusing so much on your writing, and I was very happy to see that announcement thing you put on Facebook in that regard. Yes! I’m really bad with comix stuff so I don’t know what Dr. Strange is. Kind of sad. I will go see, seeing as how your enthusiasm is magnetizing. Yeah, we shot the Xiu Xiu video a couple of weeks ago. I think we’re going to start editing it this week. The finished product is due on November 1st. Ha, good question about how it went. I think it went well. We shot it a little randomly with the idea of making it into something in the editing, and I feel pretty confident that it will end up being something strange in hopefully the best way. The new Rob Zombie is only ok? That’s too bad. I think I’m going to see it at the Sitges Festival in Spain where Zac and I will be showing LCTG later this week. How is Malcom McDowell? I’m mostly excited to see him in it ‘cos I’m a huge MMc fanboy. The creepy clown phenom in the US is very, very interesting. I keep wanting to understand it. Oh, for whatever reason, I tend to go into horror movies with a kind of studious attitude. I approach them looking to see how each one handles the conventions and formalities of the genre, because I really like the genre, and, at the same time, am always looking for films that innovate within it. And I think that kind of protects me from the scares. But then I tend to approach everything like that — novels, music films, art — i.e., things’ content usually just seems like a property of the construction or something to me. Kind of very nerdy, ha ha, but there you go. My only guess about why ‘Blair Witch Project’ managed to transcend that and actually scare me is because the whole ‘found footage’ thing was brand new back then, so I couldn’t approach it as the usual formalist I normally am. It threw me or something. Or that’s my guess? Hugs galore back to you, my pal. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. I strangely wasn’t that taken with ‘Begotten’, and I don’t really remember why now. I think the hype = my heightened expectations was a problem. But I did and do really, really like Shipley’s ‘You With Your Memory Are Dead’ a lot. So, I don’t know? ** Montse, Hi!!! It was so truly wonderful to see you and Xet! A total joy! And, yes, I’m excited to see you in Barcelona, and excited for you guys to meet Zac and vice versa! Hooray! Lots and lots of love! ** Right. Please concentrate your local time on Jeff Jackson’s new book, won’t you? Thanks. See you tomorrow.