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The Poetics of Jake

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Yesterday I stumbled upon an entirely new genre of literature. While searching for a Sonny Rollins disc on amazon.com, I happened upon the following customer review of Saxophone Colossus:

Among the finest jazz works ever. Typically, I order mayonnaise as my condiment of choice on a sandwich. But after my cat’s death, I can’t seem to come to terms with mayonnaise anymore. Silly right? It’s not like I blame mayo for my cat’s death — I think it has something to do with the opening of the jar. “Buttons” would always run into the kitchen if she heard me opening the mayo jar. But now, I open the jar and there’s nothing. Just me and my empty apartment. My life didn’t realy end up how I thought it would. I thought for sure Sonja would say yes when I asked her to marry me and I’d have a better job. But she looked so disappointed when I asked that I knew that she was going to choose Greg instead of me. He was already successful and had his own car. I was an aspiring writer, not much to bank on there. Now years later, I’m still aspiring, while she’s driving a big Mercury SUV. Sonny Rollins rocks.

Now, I was not entirely sure that this customer, Jake, hadn’t perhaps had a small psychotic break in the midst of assessing Rollins for Amazon; nevertheless, I was impressed. I began to wonder about Jake. Has he finally published outside of amazon.com? Well, this I don’t know, but what I do know is that he has published considerably more within amazon.com. When I clicked on “see all my reviews,” I found that Jake had, as I say, created an entirely new genre of literary text: the tiny confessional narrative, hidden within the Amazon merchandise review. The following small masterpiece appears on the page devoted to Welding Metallurgy by Shinto Lu.

But don’t most of us already know the basics of metallurgy? It reminds me of the time I saw my brother smoking cigarettes behind the garage. He had stolen them from my mother and didn’t really seem to be enjoying himself. But he smoked the whole pack. As he finished, I thought to myself, “what a loser.” But the fact was I had sat there for 45 minutes watching him smoke all those cigarettes. So, I guess I was even a bigger loser. A moniker that stayed with me most of my teenage life. I didn’t dislike school, I got to see a lot of pretty girls that would never have sat next to me anywhere else. I didn’t get good grades, as I was addicted to after-school cartoons like Tom & Jerry. Even well into my teens. If I see them now, I watch them in totality looking for what appealed to me when I was younger. I can’t find it.

While Jake’s Welding Metallurgy review is to be commended for having attached itself to such an inspired book, I do find that it represents a decline in structural nuance: Jake’s Saxophone Colossus review returns, in the final sentence, to the actual merchandise at hand — if nothing else, this is a more successful attempt at hiddenness, which is the essence of all esoteric writing. And the Jakean narrative is, most certainly, esoteric.

Perhaps Jake’s most successfully esoteric piece is the virtuosic Stiletto T114MC Titanium, Milled Face, Curved Handle Framing Hammer. Here Jake employs the circular structure so powerful in Saxophone Colossus, yet — in a subtle twist — makes the deviant narrative relate, tangentially, to the merchandise reviewed:

Great hammer. Makes me yearn for the days when putting up drywall and drinking brew were a carpenter’s obligation as much as his desire. Nowdays, you get these wannabe carpenters staying lucid and not double charging. Frankly, they’ve ruined the industry. I mean, I try to keep an open mind and all, but there comes a time in a man’s life when he has to look in the mirror and take stock of himself. I don’t judge a man by his choice of friends or what he does when he’s not at work. But golly, if you’re a carpenter, be one. Great hammer.

For a moment, the reader believes that he or she may have just read an actual review of the Stiletto T114MC Titanium, Milled Face, Curved Handle Framing Hammer. (Which is $69.99, and ought therefore to be a pretty fine hammer indeed.)

I must confess, however, that I found the actual sentiments expressed in Stiletto T114MC Titanium, Milled Face, Curved Handle Framing Hammer a touch less moving — less deeply considered, in fact — than those apparent in Jake’s finer efforts. While it stands as a superb example of hiddenness, Stiletto T114MC Titanium, Milled Face, Curved Handle Framing Hammer remains a slight opus — a triumph, finally, of mere technique. Compare it with the tender Massacre ~ 50 Cent, surely the most affecting piece in the Jakean ouvre:

50-Cent is the grooviest. Early in my life I thought for sure I’d find someone who’d love me and I could love back. It hasn’t worked out that way. I’ve had a spell of bad luck that seems to have lasted for years. I hate my boss and I have thoughts about quitting, but fear grips me and I can’t do it. My gosh, what a failure I am. Working 35 hours a week, going home to an empty apartment, no friends. Heavy debt. My only outlets for creative expression are my synthesizer and watching late-night TV. Though I always wake up in a bad mood ’cause I stay up watching 1980s sitcoms that I didn’t even like the first time I saw them. 50-Cent is the real deal.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of this body of work. Jake (who goes by the name “Jake,” mystery augmented by quotation marks) has issued in a new era — not simply in genre, but in means of publication. We may soon see entire epic poems lying coyly hidden within CNET reviews; picaresque novels masquerading as users’ comments at various software sites; haiku inserted into responses on this very blog.

(If this post annoyed you, please visit Dysblog, where you will be crushed beneath the weight of your irritation)

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  • Baronius

    It really is captivating. But also scary: I think I’ve written things this bad (and less personal, which means I’m a worse writer than “Jake”).

    Metallurgy and Hammer have an elegence that the other two are missing. “Jake” seems to think he is writing a review in Metallurgy and Hammer; he just loses his place. In Rollins and 50 Cent, he doesn’t lose his place, but the place is nowhere near the subject of the review.

    I also notice that in 3/4 of the reviews, he follows perfect form: state your opinion, support it, summarize. It’s the fleshing out of his opinion that goes awry, but he ends with a clear reaffirmation of his initial opinion.

  • I love this guy called “Jake”! He ought to write more stuff in more places. Love his work.

  • Great review of a reviewer who doesn’t review. When I stumbled out of bed at 11:30 pm yesterday, which was just over half an hour ago now, I never suspected I would encounter such an evocative piece that would make me reflect on my own accomplishments in life, and more poignantly the looming importance of the lack thereof.

    Hiding narratives in reviews is not really a new genre, though. Dude who goes by the name of The Filthy Critic used to do it all the time before he went into retirement, and apparently is now doing it again after coming back out of retirement. But old Filthy there, at least he includes an actual review somewhere in the middle of his wandering tales about the barflies at the local tavern or his dysfunctional marriage.

    So the main innovation for “Jake” is converting the review entirely into a creative writing exercise, without anything more than the most token window dressing to disguise it as a review. Still interesting to see what he’s made of the opportunity Amazon’s reviewing system has provided for him.

    I wonder whether Amazon’s editors leave his works in place when they find his thinly disguised “reviews.”

  • Pretty cool.