A Different Bed Every Time by Jac Jemc
Dzanc Books. 2014.
In Jac Jemc’s book of short stories, A Different Bed Every Time, each story holds its ground. Each story is filled with realistic characters, abnormally normal situations, and beautifully executed metaphors. Sharing with us this variety of stories and characters, Jemc creates miniature worlds for all to view and appreciate. As a book of short stories, each story rarely relates in an obvious way. The similarities between the characters and their situations are what tie this book in together. Stories about illness, family troubles, relationship faults, personal errors, and many more allow the reader to connect to at least one of these stories.
Jemc takes time and care to allow the reader to understand the characters. Within the first few sentences, you are thrown right into the action and able to grasp what is going on. “Hammer, Damper” tells the story of a little boy in the hospital with an unknown disease. The story talks about his stay in the hospital and how he feels about it. Within the first two paragraphs, we understand the situation and where the boy is. “Now, in the dark of the night, lit with red blinks and glowing screens and the light from the hallway… He waves his hands, trying to vanish them like he saw in the magic show.” As Jemc takes us through the story of the little boy, she fails to reveal the name of the child and his parents. By keeping the reader in the dark about the name, it prevents the reader from focusing on the boy, but on his illness and his comprehension of that illness.
“The Crickets Try to Organize Themselves Into Some Raucous Pentameter” similarly leaves out the name of a key character. Odette is introduced immediately as being in love with a waitress. She tries and fails to get the waitress to learn her name and Odette goes to a bar instead of the restaurant. She meets a couple of guys at the bar, although in the end she goes back to the bar with the waitress. In keeping the waitress’ name a secret, Jemc allows her to stay in ones mind longer. A name prevents a character’s development and Jemc maneuvers around this and develops her character before setting the name in stone; Farrah.
People have awkward situations, people have weird situations, people have saddening situations, and people have unexpected situations. Jemc keeps the reader on their toes by taking each of these and writing to surprise. Deep and dark situations are tread across lightly, but Jemc takes her writing right through the mud. “Ratman” takes you through the journey of a woman who has been trying to feel the relationship for a long time and it hasn’t been working. Ever since September 11th, when Magpie, her lover of sorts, convinced her to have sex to feel better, she always felt forced to stay with him. Jemc brings us to a world where relationships don’t feel right and they do end. This shows that some relationships don’t work at the start and can last just as long.
Jemc uses a variety of differing writing techniques that few tend to use. In her story, “The Wrong Sister,” Jemc uses the pronoun “you” to bring the reader into the story. As you read through this adventure of a sister taking the place of her twin, you feel as though you are the character and this is your story. By subtly placing the reader into the story, Jemc creates a world where the husband will not notice the change. He will plan the murder of you, but actually meant for your sister. You will know about it and allow it to happen. You will be murdered by your sister’s husband.
Jemc takes “Like Lightning” and uses a metaphor all through the story of a queen bee. She uses terms and ideas related to bees, but also connects it back to humans. “Jenny’s husband is very ill. Full, alienated clauses of time are being pulled through IVs, sucked into his life-thirsty body.” The queen bee is the only bee that lives for a number of years. Most other bees live for only a few months. By making the comparison between a woman and her sick husband and a queen bee and her mate, Jemc creates a fresh and unique story that gives the reader a different perspective.
As a book, reading it all together can get confusing and overwhelming, but in small doses the stories in the book are wonderfully fresh and creative. Jemc combines unique writing skills with relatable characters and situations to create a book full of interesting tales.
ALYSSA RADCLIFFE is a student at Johnson State College.