The Suburban Swindle by Jackie Corley

 Femme Friday People! Next week I’ll highlight some old school righteous woman, but today, I review The Suburban Swindle by the amazing Jackie Corley:


“It’s impossible to be anything but a memory”  Juliana Hatfield


Jackie Corley, in her short story collection, The Suburban Swindle, (So New Publishing),  creates a loved and loathed world, a deeply felt suburban New Jersey, peopled by flawed, suffering characters and often narrated by an “I” that feels much older than her twentysomething years. Like Justin Taylor in his excellent book of poems, More Perfect Depictions of Noise (soon to be reviewed by my husband) Corley manages to use her youth as a writer to her great advantage. She is so close to her material that a rawness of emotion, a bewilderment with the edges of life, comes alive on the page.


The opening lines say it all and Corley never lets up after them:


What are we? What we are is oiled sadness. Dead Garden snakes and dried-up slugs. We’re what happens when you’re bored and scared too long, when you sit in piles in some dude’s basement trying to get the guy’s white supremacist brother to shut the fuck up for five fucking minutes.


Corley’s characters are stuck, but they are not sure why. Change seems to come from outside themselves, often violently, leaving them more confused than they were before.  Language is loved in these stories. Phrases are dense and the way words cling together, rub off of each other, deepens the depiction of the sparkling pain shimmering off of her characters. The world she creates is an America where most people don’t know how to leave even if they want to; opportunity is vague and overwhelming to think about:


“Yeah, yeah.” She files her nails along her collarbone. “I’ve gotta get out of this fucking dump.”


“Where would you go? What would be different?” he asks, but these aren’t questions.


No—they are not questions, they are statements, they are truths. And yet, despite their stuckness, despite the sometimes sordidness of these lives, Corley captures that youthful importance, when we still believe we are the center of the universe, the magic of our tiny community if nothing else:


I’ve got a guy in the parking lot at the other end of town waiting for me. Used to be we were lovers. Used to be there was something of God in that. Fingertips on his pink chest, on the black ink of the tattoo. Watching him breathe, making him wait longer.


And here is the key to the brilliance of this collection; there is God in these people, even if it’s hidden deep and swathed in pain and ugliness and carelessness. These are stories that don’t shy away from anything: the realities of class, the pain of love and the simmering violence in all of us. Corley’s evenness of tone truly astonishes. She shows a impressive, sustained effort and does justice to words and humans. And regardless of squalor and suffering, Corley insists that our lives have meaning, have true and astonishing beauty, and our time on earth, even in New Jersey, is profoundly precious. This is soulful stuff. Read it.