Read Jenny and the Jaws of Life: Short Stories by Jincy Willett Online


Jincy Willett is the high priestess of dark comedy. The classic stories in this collection cut through every convention, every idea of normalcy, with empathy and fearless wit, undermining all the old ideas about the happy family, the good son, the dutiful mother. In Willett's world, perversity and tenderness walk hand in hand; there's laughter and funerals, ambivalence inJincy Willett is the high priestess of dark comedy. The classic stories in this collection cut through every convention, every idea of normalcy, with empathy and fearless wit, undermining all the old ideas about the happy family, the good son, the dutiful mother. In Willett's world, perversity and tenderness walk hand in hand; there's laughter and funerals, ambivalence in the nursery, and redemption for the wicked. As David Sedaris writes in his foreword, "I'm prepared to wear a sandwich board for this book. I can't help myself. It' just too good."...

Title : Jenny and the Jaws of Life: Short Stories
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780312428105
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 272 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Jenny and the Jaws of Life: Short Stories Reviews

  • christa
    2019-02-17 15:13

    I have an unrequited beef with Jincy Willett that dates back to weeks ago when she wrote in the NYT's Book Review that Sarah Dunn's flaming piece of chick lit "Secrets to Happiness" was not, in fact, chick lit. This, of course, led to me researching the reviewer to find ways to extract from her the $23.99 she owes me for lying. Unfortunately, when I can across her own list of novels and short stories, I was surprised to find that Willett's stuff looked like stuff I might want to read. With her most recent novel "The Writing Class" in that awkward pubescent phase where it is about to morph from hardcover to soft cover, I wasn't able to find it at any of my local bookstores. I did find "Jenny and the Jaws of Life," a short story compilation from the 1980s, re-released in modern times to include a testimonial from David Sedaris on the cover. I was all "Game on, Jincy." [What a great name, by the way.:]She redeemed herself. Tenfold. These 13 stories suggest that Jincy Willett knows people better than people know themselves. She has an eye like a microscope fitted with a camera and shoved into a colon. She writes about those moments where you think you are just tugging a loose thread, but it inadvertently turns into a school bus crash. Her voice is quietly satiric and darkly funny. If you had lunch with her voice, split the bill, ran some errands and then made dinner, it would take until you were dicing the onions to finally wonder: Wait. Was she making fun of me?My favorites included "The Haunting of the Linguards," the story of that perfectly-synced, super-human, couple, whose relationship crashes after the woman sees a ghost, resurrecting the only argument the couple has ever had. "Melinda Falling" starts with a man observing a woman as she takes a tumble down the stairs at a party, and immediately falls in love with this imperfect klutz; In "Under the Bed" a woman's response to being raped doesn't match the way her friends think she should respond; "Mr. Lazenbee" stars a socially awkward sixth-grade girl who thinks the wrong things are funny. She accuses her aunt of making her "feel funny," calls a hotline when her dad spanks her, and tries to seduce the school janitor. This is uncomfortably squirmy brilliance. "The Best of Betty" was the story that really made me realize the quality of what I was reading. It's a take on the advice columnist -- Ann Landers, Dear Abby, whoever. The story is comprised of letters and responses. At first I was like "C'mon, Jincy, you can do better than this. These letters are blah." But then, but THEN, you realize that they are blah on purpose. That she is getting to the tired minutia of these columns. And then everything explodes. I'd say all is forgiven between Jincy and me.

  • Olivia
    2019-02-09 17:46

    I just got this book for $1, and already I am happy and sad about that. Why didn't I pay more?

  • Shannon
    2019-02-09 15:50

    The term "brilliant" is thrown around a lot, and not always accurately. But in this case, it's very apt. This is just brilliant. "Justine Laughs at Death" was downright disturbing, what with the allusions to rape, murder, and torture, and the weird bird imagery and cryptic phone calls. But very good. And "Best of Betty" was really funny. The whole thing is very witty, and I think Willitt is up there with Amy Hempel as a short-story writer who uses the minimum amount of words to their maximum awesome-potential. Also, though this collection was first published in 1987, it doesn't feel dated at all. The stories, I think, have kind of a timelessness to them. Basically, there's nothing not to like about this. Edit: Oh wait. ONE thing. This edition had typos, for some weird reason. Like not so much spelling ones (there were like.. 2 of those, which I excused) but mostly there were frequently periods missing from ends of sentences. I could tell it was the end of the sentence because the next word was capital and it made sense with the flow. However.. it was kind of confusing. And unnerving. How can someone repeatedly forget periods?? Hm.

  • Joshua Gross
    2019-02-03 15:06

    This was an intense collection of short stories. All of them resonated and meant something, all of them had depth and complexity, and it made it a little difficult to read at work because I'd finish one story and just have to move on to the next one without time to recover. Jincy Willet is amazing, and her stories show that. She has a perfect understanding of human nature and of human interaction. These stories occasionally have a feel about them that is specific to that time period and that generation, the characters are well done and complicated, and once again Jincy Willet's writing make me wonder what kind of person she is. My favorite stories were 'Mr. Lazenbee' and 'The Best of Betty.' The rest are all my second favorites.

  • Chance Lee
    2019-01-25 15:53

    Jincy Willett's short stories are interesting in that very few of them have a clear arc, or a complete plot, instead it's just a bunch of things happen to a character, and now make something of it. I guess that's every story, when you think about it, but hers even more so. The last story, "The Jaws of Life," addresses this in its opening line: "According to Hannah, real life just happens, whereas stories make sense. When you put real life in print, she says, you show it up for the pointless mess it really is." That's what a lot of these stories feel like, real life in print.Which is absurd, considering the stories are about a philandering wine salesman, a "bad seed" type teenage girl attempting to seduce an old man who looks like a vulture, and a woman who sees a ghost. There's a Flannery O'Connor vibe, with some of the most ghastly images like this one -- The Mango girl [a cardboard cutout[, her sharp-edged hat crumpled by Pillbeam's head, splattered with Pillbeam's blood, grinned at him from the backseat. The upholstery, front and back, reeked of fermented tropical fruit -- or with Jenny, who is finally able to fall down without making a joke about it, and so she just stays there as are son gets more and more embarrassed and frustrated. And there are lots of evil children, murdering their parents or making fake sex abuse claims. Willett sees people as wanting to save themselves more than others, even when they're in the process of saving others -- "If I didn't do it right I would be the guy who didn't save the kid. So really I was brave because I was a coward."My favorite two stories are the first two, "Julie in the Funhouse", about a man's sister who is murdered by her own children, and "The Haunting of the Linguards." I can see why David Sedaris likes Willet. The first reads like a Sedaris essay, if one of his sisters was brutally murdered by her own children. There's emotion coupled with a humorous detachment. But the second story is my absolutely favorite. In this one, a practical husband and wife couple with a perfect marriage (their own fight started with the phrase "Look, I don't want Grape-Nuts" is torn apart when the wife sees a ghost. It's like that Nicole Kidman movie, Birth. She knows what she saw, even though it's impossible. She can't prove it to her husband, and being Mr. Science, he wants proof, but "she had nothing on her side but experience." The two get into an interesting debate about this with a fellow married couple, and one of them points out to the husband, "What if you had seen the ghost? Then where would you be? It seems to me that you've put your fait in something pretty iffy, if that is all it would take to make your whole world fall apart."But it falls apart anyway. Everything is in entropy in these stories. Also, I have to note that these stories were published in 1987, yet they mention thigh gap ("thighs so slender there's a space between them at the top"), which I thought was a relatively recent invention.

  • Nitya
    2019-02-17 17:12

    I recommended this one to my book club after reading about David Sedaris' rave review of this book, which was actually first published in 1987, and then resurrected and reprinted after Sedaris wrote about how much he loved the book. Being a big Sedaris fan, it seemed logical that I would love Jenny and the Jaws of Life. Have you ever invited someone to watch a movie that you absolutely loved, and then watched it with them, wondering the whole time, if really the movie wasn't that great after all? I felt like that while reading this book, knowing my book club members were reading along, and probably wincing while doing so. What was Sedaris thinking? He thought the stories were hilarious, and touching. While I thought the stories were interesting, I found very little humor in them, and I have a pretty good sense of humor.As for being touching,I don't think so either. It is possible, that were I reading the book without having convinced my book club to read it, that I would have seen it differently. As it was, the one book club member who did like the book was absent the night we met, and everyone else strongly disliked it. Complaints ranged from the stories were depressing, to it wasn't funny, to it was just plain weird. I will probably peruse Jenny and the Jaws of Life again to see what is what. Curious what other reviewers have said. Maybe I'll read several and see.

  • Mintwitch
    2019-02-01 15:46

    I have had a good run of books over the past week or so. Jenny and the Jaws of Life was so good that I'm tempted to take a break from reading and revel in the goodness. Instead, I will reread Jenny...Short stories are difficult. They are difficult to read and they are extremely difficult to write. Few hit the "sweet spot," the point at which there are precisely enough words to complete the idea, not a single word too many or too few, and each perfectly suited to it's purpose. Jincy Willet has a gift, hitting the sweet spot every time.The collection is introduced by David Sedaris, who assures the reader that Jenny... is "the funniest collection of stories I've ever read." Mr. Sedaris is a strange man. I would not call Willet funny. There are amusing moments in the stories, but Willet's humor is not the sort that causes one to laugh out loud; instead, one experiences the shocked recognition of self, of shared humanity, our common foibles and frailties.

  • Erica
    2019-01-30 19:13

    This is a truly fascinating book of short stories, but if you decide to read it you probably shouldn't read "Under the Bed" just before going to sleep. And if you do read "Under the Bed" just before going to sleep, don't continue on to "Justine Laughs at Death" to try and make it better. And if you do go onto "Justine Laughs at Death", at least read it all the way through. Don't give up and try to go to sleep in the middle, no matter how early you have to be up the next morning. Trust me.

  • Rachel
    2019-02-12 15:05

    The 13 short stories in this collection are witty, well-constructed, contain beautifully written passages, and Willett shows a lot of insight into human nature; nonetheless, I disliked this book a lot. Originally published in 1987, it was reissued in 2002 with a new introduction by David Sedaris, who is quoted on the cover as saying, "[i]t's just the funniest collection of stories I've ever read," which, if true, could mean that all the other collections he's read are autopsy reports. It's neither here nor there, as I don't think these stories -- which are about teens killing their parents, adultery, rape, false accusations of child molestation, cancer, and a guy who feels like he would have made an excellent Nazi -- were intended to be funny, but it still seems like an odd thing to say. In fact Sedaris's entire introduction is odd; the gist of it is that in the 1980s he would read literally anything, including manuscripts that he found left behind in a photocopier, and that of all his indiscriminate reading, this was one of the things he liked. While I think his recommendation is sincere, it reads as if it's not.In any event, I do not recommend this book, at least not taken as a whole. Each story, individually, is very good (and I have to say that's unusual in a short story collection, which is ordinarily two or three great stories plus another 200 pages of whatever the author scraped off his or her hard drive), but when you read the entire book in one or two sittings, it's all sort of disturbing. Aside from the dark subject matter of each story, there are in general two running themes: mildly disturbed and unlikeable children who clearly will never outgrow whatever it is that's wrong with them, and dysfunctional father/daughter relationships. The latter is present in nearly all the stories, either in an actual father/daughter relationship, which is either vaguely sexual or strangely maternal but never filial, or in the marriage of a woman to a man old enough to be her father (and in the one story where the protagonist is married to a man her own age, his hair has turned prematurely and completely gray.) Mothers in these stories are more an afterthought, present but not particularly necessary. After three or four similarly themed stories, I felt like I was reading writing exercises or character sketches or, at worst, do-it-yourself psychotherapy. In any case, it was starting to give me the shivers, and I was glad to get to the end of the book. I've read two of Willett's novels this year, The Writing Class and Amy Falls Down, both of which I liked, but they were very different in style and tone both from this and from each other, which itself is strange since Amy Falls Down is the sequel to The Writing Class and yet they read as if they're written by two different people. So the upshot, I guess, is that with Willett you never know what you're going to get. She's a good writer, so you're bound to like something she's written, but unless you enjoy feeling depressed and sort of creeped out, it probably won't be this.

  • Michael
    2019-02-16 11:51

    In his introduction, David Sedaris piles tons of hyperbolic praise on this collection, including calling it the funniest collection of stories ever, which just ain't the case. Most of the stories aren't actually funny nor are meant to be. This is dark, self-conscious satire, of an annoying eighties vintage that feels very much of its time and the many varied collections published during that recent golden age of short fiction. But with a few exceptions, the stories here, they feel more like the work of graduate workshops--not particularly satisfying in terms of language, or wit, or story, but more like a working out of some idea that you can see and appreciate. As exercises, in other words. Fine exercises, but pretty much never coming to life in a way that affected this reader deeply.

  • Sarah Hine
    2019-01-29 15:04

    I picked this up because in the forward, David Sedaris explains how he considers this book a true gem which help shaped his own literary voice. Using basic logic: I love David Sedaris. David Sedaris loves Jincy Willett. Hence, I will love it too. And I did love it. Not because it made me burst out laughing while riding the train to work (which is why I love Sedaris), but because it had so many great turns of phrase, twisted and rich plot lines, and disturbing but absorbing characters. Willett's writing and sense of humor is dark, very dark, and you can really see where Sedaris might have drawn from it in creating his own style. This is excellent short story writing.

  • Meghan
    2019-01-24 10:45

    This book and I had a date at the Korean Women's Spa this week. The stories I enjoyed most were the first two and then the later story told in the format of an advice column. The themes start to repeat themselves and I didn't enjoy the last two stories in the collection. Very similar in tone to the David Sedaris collectionBarrel Fever.

  • Susann
    2019-02-07 17:09

    A dozen years after my first reading, I still think this is an excellent collection of short stories. My 2004 review probably would have been more glowing than this one. But if I seem tepid now, I think it's due to the timing of this re-read and how the mood of the stories wasn't quite what I was looking for. According to my paper book journal, my favorite story in 2004 was "Justine Laughs At Death." This time it was "The Haunting of the Linguards."Last read: 03-12-2004

  • Sam Ferree
    2019-01-23 17:11

    I honestly have no idea where this book came from, but one day I found it on my shelf and decided to read it. Most likely, it was required reading for a course that we never got around to reading. Either way, I'm glad I held on to it.There's no great way to describe Willett's style. It's humorous and devastating. I highly recommend it.

  • LooseLips
    2019-02-02 13:54

    this is simply one of the most under recognized, hugely intense, beautifully written books i have ever read. i feel lucky to have discovered jincy willet (although david sedaris might've found her first) and recommend everyone read this book once or twice a year for the rest of your life.

  • Emily Mellow
    2019-01-31 11:01

    These are darkly humorous stories. One or two I didn't like, but there are enough great, unique stories to make the book a choice read. I generally prefer a novel to short stories, but these flowed nicely from one to the next...

  • Matt Fitz
    2019-02-15 15:08

    David Sedaris revived this 1987 collection of short stories in 2002 with his foreword/review calling it the "funniest collection of stories I've ever read - really funny and perfectly sad at the same time." I would recommend you read "funny" to mean its less used definitions of "quirky" or "peculiar." Her imagery and variations of narrative were complex and intriguing. The stories lack the typical short-story arc with tidily wrapped endings and there is a tinge of the macabre or dark humor (kids killing their parents, rape, falsely accusing someone of child molestation, cancer, death, adultery). Keep in mind that it was originally written in the 80s, when societal taboos were markedly different than today (and phones are mounted to walls) An enjoyable read if you enjoy short stories.

  • Purficklyclean
    2019-02-18 13:06

    NEARLY TWO YEARS LATER, I have at last finished this wonderful collection of short stories. The length of time it took me to finish is a reflection on me, not at all on the quality of the book. As with any book of short stories (presumably; I admit I have not read a great many short story collections), there were some I loved more than others, but there are definitely several that will stick with me (and/or have stuck with me, as some of them, once again, were read nearly two years ago). Favorites: Best of Betty, Justine Laughs At Death, Résumé, and Jenny

  • Lindsay Zombek
    2019-02-13 15:54

    I should probably write a review after I process this a little further. I anticipated more humor...there was humor, but often dark (very dark) humor. Some stories crossed into downright disturbing and should be avoided by anyone with sexual trauma triggers. The stories were compelling and moments of brilliance and wit were found in the quirks of various characters and in their experiences with the mundane and how the mundane escalates into the absurd.

  • Paolo Albera
    2019-02-07 14:50

    Racconti deliziosamente strani

  • Rebecca McNutt
    2019-02-18 19:10

    This was certainly one of the weirdest story collections I've ever read, in a good way, capturing people in an incredibly realistic light.

  • Tamika
    2019-02-18 13:58

    Truly enjoyable in surprising ways.

  • Bonnie
    2019-02-18 12:46

    Wonderful variety of themes and voices.

  • Morgan
    2019-02-15 11:57

    The first few stories are pretty strong, but it goes downhill from there. I'd try another book by Ms. Willett, but I don't see myself rereading this one or passing it on to a friend.

  • Justine
    2019-02-20 18:11

    Having recently fallen in love with Jincy Willett's writing, I purchased Jenny and the Jaws of Life to recapture that delicious feeling I got when reading "Winner of the National Book Award." Alas, what resulted was the exact sensation I got the first time I read any Austen after starting with Pride and Prejudice: the distinct feeling that if I read this first, I would have loved it and not been, instead, vaguely disappointed.Jenny and the Jaws of Life is a good collection, but it also clearly shows a less mature and less fine-honed writer. Though it is funny, it isn't side-splitting, laugh-out-loud funny; though it has its profoundly disturbing moments, it didn't have the long, slow burn of "what the fuck is going on" that the novel did. Either way the plot and movement of the stories were just off-balance enough to make you keep wondering and keep guessing. From the great what if of "Melinda Falling," to the eerie horror of "Justine laughs at death," to the downright sociopathic creepiness of "Jenny," Jincy once again brings out protagonists that are just off-balance enough to make you reel a tiny, dizzy bit.I will clearly be reading the rest of her stuff. Let's hope it goes uphill.

  • Librofilia_it
    2019-02-02 15:04

    I tredici racconti contenuti in "Jenny e altri imprevisti" di Jincy Willett sono tutti pervasi da una costante sensazione di solitudine e di spaesamento e pur mostrando una vena ironica e umoristica, soprattutto nei confronti delle avversità, sembrano possedere un ascendente piuttosto cupo, sinistro e imprevedibile nonché una speciale propensione verso la morte, che è in qualche modo presente in quasi ogni racconto.Recensione completa:

  • Miss
    2019-02-15 19:04

    i enjoyed this! i also kind of want to meet david sedaris now because he recommends this as the funniest set of stories he's ever read and if that's true he has a BIZARRE sense of humour and i'd like to hear more about iti saw a couple of reviews that found this collection depressing which is interesting because a) i never felt that way and b) these stories feature matricide, rape, a serial killer, a false claim of sexual abuse, unhappy marriages, dysfunctional parenting...why on earth didn't i?the answer i think is willett is a very assured writer who can write about terrible things in a matter of fact way that somehow renders them very clear and precise without being overwhelming?i don't know guys, this just doesn't FEEL like a sad collection even though a catalogue of the plot indicates it would be. a case of the whole being much greater than the sum of it's parts?also justine laughs at death a) reminded me of mr. fox by helen oyeyemi in a v. cool thematic way that someone ought to analyze and b) drops the mic on the entire genre of heterosexual male serial killers who murder women genre, everybody can stop writing it now, what else is there left to say4 stars

  • Jenny
    2019-01-28 16:54

    Whoah, that was a dark read! Sure, the writing is tight, and it's (short stories) psychologically insightful into turning points in people's lives. But this is dark, full of murder, rape, and other graphic, disturbing stuff. So be warned. I had nightmares the night after I read it. I did get a kick out of "The Best of Betty," about a vicious advice columnist who take her comments so literally. Nevertheless, of course I managed to find some quotes I liked:--"We drive in the rain through pitch-black farmland, past outcroppings of illuminated smokestacks, and then the industrial towns of the north. Gary is my father's idea of pure hell. I will always picture hell, not as a fiery pit, but as an outpost on the night horizon, iron and brick, black smoke and white steam." (p 76)--A woman speaking about her father: "We had our most animated conversations in the car. Here was the ideal setting for talk between us... We talked about politics, morality, social change; always some abstract matter. (My mother and I talked about individual people and what made them tick.)" (p 79)--"My husband teaches physics at the University. He is the real philosopher, like all good scientists, although, like most good scientists, he amiably resists this description." (p 147)

  • Gina
    2019-02-09 12:53

    I don't think the book blurb is entirely honest. The description of the stories as wonderfully funny and poignant and the characters as eccentric and complex sounds like it was borrowed from a Fanny Flagg cover by a lazy publisher. It's fair to say that this book is funny, but not in the way you might expect given David Sedaris' endorsement. As dark as he can be, he's still light enough to have become a sort of national treasure. Jincy Willett's work is sharp and sardonic and probably not for everyone. You may laugh, but it will be a sort of pained, uncomfortable laugh. I had a roommate that always use to screech, "It's funny 'cuz it's true!" It was annoying and usually rude or irrelevant, but that phrase came to mind while I was reading this. Considering that my favorite story in this book was about the aftermath of a rape--well, maybe that will clue you in on the direction of these stories. Add to that parricide, a tiny psychopath, grief, adultery, abuse, etc. and you're not exactly in for a trip to Happy World Land.

  • Kathy
    2019-02-10 16:57

    I read this book of short stories because it's an all time favorite of David Sedaris, who praises it quite highly in his preface of a collection of short stories he edited called "Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules" (from which I learned that Sedaris and I share an affinity for darkly comic and satirical short stories.)While I didn't enjoy this book as much as I'd hoped, the story "The Best of Betty" alone is worth the price of admission -- it's a truly hilarious parody about an advice column writer who's in the midst an existential midlife crisis that plays out in the letters and responses that appear in her column. Several of the other stories are also quite good, but overall these stories just seem to be trying too hard. Autobiography thinly disguised as fiction is hard to pull off successfully; when it doesn't quite work, as is sometimes the case here, a narrative barrier springs up between writer and reader, which is what I kept coming up against here. However, Willett is clearly an accomplished and talented writer. There's an excerpt from her novel "The Writing Class" at the end of the book, and it's dead-on great. I definitely want to read it next!