These aren’t funny stories, so why am I laughing?

Cover by Angel Guerra

This is one of my at-first-I-wanted-you-for-your-looks-but-it-turns-out-you-also-have-a-great-personality kind of books.
I pulled it out at Ben McNally’s one afternoon and laughed hysterically at the cover: a series of paper doll-like photos, prim and proper in their formalwear but with some of the most devastated expressions I’ve ever seen superimposed over their pretty faces.

Jessica Westhead’s And Also Sharks is exactly like this.

It might be the weirdest collection of stories I’ve ever read. And that’s probably a good thing. Westhead paints such a unique view of monotony, taking everyday people – the cat lady, the guy who is attracted to his coworker’s wife, the couple who can’t be spontaneous, the girl who steals, the internet commenter…these people who are so incredibly ordinary, Westhead gives them free reign to speak and reveal all their warm, fleshy innards.  In real life, we can talk to people all day long without getting a sense of who they are or their true introspection.  Here, we are given the opportunity to judge characters by their intentions rather than their actions because that’s where the focus lies. In Coconut for instance, a woman kidnaps a baby, just plucks it up off the sidewalk, and somehow it kind of seems okay and you just want it to work out for her.
The 15 or so stories in And Also Sharks give you many versions of A-Day-in-the-Life-of-So-and-So” where there are no excuses for a character’s behaviour.  They just are who they are.

These aren’t exactly funny stories. Except that they are. They are like tripping on the sidewalk in public and then laughing about it even though you cut your knee. Sometimes you can’t help but laugh though, at the sad and strange and wonderful things people think and do.  Like getting excited over hotel bathroom soaps. Westhead illuminates all these losers in a way that becomes so situationally sympathetic, you just have to love them, this perfectly weird mixed-bag of reality.  Something nice and easy with a scrapbooked sadface for a head.

Anyways, in the name of quirk and cold-blooded vertebrae, here is the most pathetic and interesting piece of jewelry I own (origin: some garage sale). It’s tail swishes back and forth.
In real life this fish would be disgusting, (likely rotting by the looks of him) and fed to the sharks in a fat bucket of chum.  But in fashionland, this kind of stuff can be whatever you want it to be, like beautiful body decor.
It’s just like in shortstoryland where the everyday is poetic, baby-stealing kleptomaniacs are endearing, and cat ladies are the most rational people at the office.

Also, here is what I would look like if I was one of the forlorn paper dolls on the cover. Also featuring my sad, sad boyfriend (who is going to kill me for this).

And Also Sharks – Jessica Westhead
Cormorant Books 2011
Jacket Design: Angel Guerra


1 thought on “These aren’t funny stories, so why am I laughing?

  1. Okay, seriously? That is a hilarious picture at the very end. And obviously he didn’t kill you. Phew!

    Love the review! And the quirkiness is exactly the thing I like; our ordinary IS quirky. Most of the time we’re too busy trying to be perfect to notice. What a shame.

    Also, that necklace is AWESOME!


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