John the Posthumous

by Jason Schwartz

John the Posthumous


From the publisher, OR Books:

John the Posthumous exists in between fiction and poetry, elegy and history: a kind of novella in objects, it is an anatomy of marriage and adultery, an interlocking set of fictional histories, and the staccato telling of a murder, perhaps two murders. This is a literary album of a pre-Internet world, focused on physical elements — all of which are tools for either violence or sustenance. Knives, old iron gates, antique houses in flames; Biblical citations, blood and a history of the American bed: the unsettling, half-perceived images, and their precise but alien manipulation by a master of the language will stay with readers. Its themes are familiar — violence, betrayal, failure — its depiction of these utterly original and hauntingly beautiful.

“After reading Jason Schwartz, it’s difficult to talk about any other writer’s originality or unique relation to the language. John the Posthumous is a work of astounding power and distinction, beautifully strange, masterful.” —Sam Lipsyte

Here’s an excerpt:

Corinthians begins with the salutation, and not, as I had thought, a description of locusts on a hilltop. Or even beetles in a forest, a woods, a copse –– on pine trees, for instance, as behind our house. Chapter two cites “decline” –– “I came before you in weakness, trembling” –– though this offers little about a burning town. I imagine axles and a wagon wheel, somehow, and then an animal –– its shriek, I should think, rather like the sound a child makes, crying out at night. Chapter three cites “fire” –– in Romans, by contrast, a “wooden throat” follows a “page of flesh,” or vice versa –– beside “the tower” and “the house” and “the road.” Silver, in a later passage, is placed at a wall or at a gate, despite the color of the jackals. Chapter four cites “rags,” which, displayed thus, may remind you of certain birds, such as those lost at the falls. They were blinded, were they not? Or perhaps they died of fright. It was smoke or fog, according to that story –– a great gray arrangement. The plumage was blue, yes, but I am partial to the rabbits in the bracken. Chapter five cites “Satan,” even if, on occasion, the body is a boy’s. The organs and the bones, anyway –– though these are soon replaced with hay and straw. The latter is black –– I hate to admit how this still gives my heart a start –– and the garment white. Chapter six cites “thieves” and “adulterers” –– rather than, as in Timothy, a “list of widows.” The terms differ somewhat in the Egyptian conception, where demons accompany each affliction. Here, the canopy signifies –– in one of the less extravagant descriptions –– a crown. When the canopy depicts figures of the victim, or victims, the cords are red to indicate places of contagion. The sackcloth vanishes, I gather, from the other houses, north along the road.

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