Book Review : Jeremy Robert Johnson - Entropy in Bloom (2017)
I miss renting VHS tapes from the video store. Movies worked differently back then: audiences had less control over what they were watching and put themselves through fucked up shit in order to confront Sunday afternoon boredom. There's no feeling quite like having a revelation over something you didn't know existed an hour before. Jeremy Robert Johnson's upcoming short story collection Entropy in Bloom (available on April 18) is like spending your weekend locked inside a video store that's too rad to exist or better yet, like stumbling upon a killer anthology show you've never heard about on late night television. It's exciting, unpredictable and feels slightly dangerous. I've had an absolute blast with Entropy in Bloom and rekindled with a sense of wonder I thought I had lost.
The title you might recognize from Entropy in Bloom is When Susurrus Stirs, which was recently made into a movie. It tells the story of a pacifist who decides to live with the unknown parasite inside his body, giving it a name (Susurrus), entertaining conversation with it, etc. I loved this story for putting the economy of virtue so important in modern leftist rhetoric, in perspective. The narrator wants to be a good person, but that life he harbors is gradually turning him into a monster. When Susurrus Stirs is a good example of a body horror story with something to say. There is enough shock value to it to satisfy thrill seekers, but it's never hollow. That said, Jeremy Robert Johnson isn't exactly a ring wing writer. His stories explore the consequences of extreme behaviors whether they are politically motivated or not.
Another story from Entropy in Bloom I really liked was Persistence Hunting, which is about a young man finding solace from deeply rooted sexual frustrations in crime, more precisely breaking & entering. I wouldn't say Persistence Hunting is a crime story itself, it's more of an exploration of cause and effect between being inflicted trauma and inflicting trauma upon others. Johnson portrays these two variables as interdependent. The Gravity of Benham Falls was another standout in the collection, which interestingly enough, also deals with violent sexual motivations. It's nowhere near as subtle as Persistence Hunting, but once again has a unique and refreshing take on what would otherwise be a boring woman-in-jeopardy short story. The slippery sense of reality which is the foundation Jeremy Robert Johnson's fiction is in full display. You never know whether the protagonist is in the real world, hallucinates or has a genuine transcendent experience and the point of the story not to know.
The number one reason I do this? People jump to assumptions and whisper asides to each other about parental neglect or abuse or acid in my baby formula. They're wrong.
I do this because when I was little my mom told me I was going to be someone special.
I asked her what special meant. She pointed to the TV screen. I thought "special" was Burt Reynolds, until she spoke up.
"Special means that people pay attention to you. Special means you have something that other people don't. Special is having people love you without even knowing you. I know, and have know since the day you were born that you are going to be special. That's why I love you so much, Jamie." (The League of Zeroes)
I'm usually not a fan of collections that don't have interconnected stories, but Entropy in Bloom works. What is its secret? A coherent narrative universe and recurrent themes. The big picture theme of Jeremy Robert Johnson's collection is boundaries. Entropy in Bloom means to test all sorts of boundaries: the body (When Susurrus Stirs and, to a certain extent, The Sleep of Judges), sexual boundaries (Persistence Hunting, The Gravity of Benham Falls), reality (Luminary) and the known universe (The Oarsman) This is why it feels to unique. Other stories exist within boundaries they don't set for themselves and this is what Jeremy Robert Johnson seeks to redefine. There aren't many storytellers quite like him but a few names that come to mind are Harlan Ellison, Richard Matheson, Clive Barker and Dan Simmons. If you're into these guys, you'll get a kick out of Johnson' work.
Cult author Brian Evenson says in the introduction to Entropy in Bloom that what makes Jeremy Robert Johnson interesting is that absolutely anything can happen in his stories, but that whatever the premise is, Johnson always treats it with the utmost serious. This is a very mysterious statement when taken out of context, but it's also a brilliant way to describe what the experience of reading Jeremy Robert Johnson feels like. His fiction is free of the boundaries of conventional literature in ways you can't quite imagine. Entropy in Bloom is emotionally challenging, unpredictable and thoroughly original. I cannot say it enough: I've had a great time with the book. It will be out on April 18. Don't miss out on it. Pre-order your damn copy today and, as usual, you can thank me after.