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Jemc’s subtle touch is evident in the focus and attention of My Only Wife. The reader’s heart stirs and stops on her whim. This is a lovely, finely tuned book.
Jac Jemc’s My Only Wife operates with the calm, pristine clarity of an enormous marble room. In moving, methodically arranged sentences, one comes across the surpassing surfaces and relics of a kind of intimacy that seems an increasingly difficult proposition to rightly preserve. At last, here is a novel concerned with timeless dedication, love, and respect, which phrased through Jac Jemc’s steady warming eye needs no punchline or coincidence or cataclysm to give true glow to the glow itself.
I adored this book. I adored the slippery, enigmatic wife of the title and I adored her adoring husband and I adored every lovely, heartbreaking sentence in this deftly written, beautiful book.
Her work has been distinguished by a sort of cold beauty, a precision that opens up space in her stories, and My Only Wife reads as the finest expression of that aesthetic.
So beautifully rendered but emotionally wrenching.
My Only Wife is a sneaky book. It guiles the reader with clean prose and apparent simplicity into believing that it’s a novel about the narrator’s only wife. It may be about many things – about absence, emptiness, and loss – but it really isn’t about the narrator’s only wife. It’s more like an empty glass from the cupboard, an abstraction, a form, and it invites us to fill it with particulars from our own experience.
The book asks us to consider the differences between understanding the ones we love, the limits of that understanding, and the flaws of attempting to understand how we understand them. Perhaps this last point is the step that goes too far, where life de-solidifies and confusingly comes apart in our hands. It forces us to examine ourselves, whether we are the wife, who has crossed over into disappearance, or the husband: broken, humiliated, but remaining in life.
My Only Wife is a novel for readers who want to engage with, rather than be merely entertained by, characters, writing and ideas. Jemc has a distinctive style, using some non-traditional elements such as repetition in sentence openings and stand-alone sentences, that convey artistic confidence and that force the reader to pay attention to both what is said and how it is said.
Reading Jac Jemc’s novel My Only Wife casts a somewhat strange (in that good sense related to excellent fiction), thrilling dream.
My Only Wife opens with an epigraph from Emily Dickinson: “That those who know her, know her less, the nearer her they get.” This is the reader’s obsession and compulsion and joy, shared by the husband, who has been left, who recounts for us the stories of his wife. This novel is so well-written, so well-crafted, I was constantly torn between slowing down to linger in the wonderful prose and speeding up to chase the intoxicating story, which is to say, the intoxicating wife. A woman who rips pages from her favorite books, tosses the pages out of windows for passersby below to find and read. A woman who erases the first love letter her husband ever wrote her because it was written in pencil (and for a more heartbreaking reason I won’t divulge here). A woman who collects oral histories of strangers, records them secluded in a closet, out of earshot of her husband. A woman you’d expect to find in a foreign film, where women are celebrated for their strength and wit and independent spirit and unknowability. And while we are making comparisons to the movies, there is a Hitchockian ending I didn’t see coming (as one shouldn’t, Hitchcockian endings!). All in all, a brilliant novel I will add to my shelf of favorite books, alongside Memories of My Melancholy Whores and The Lover and I Look Divine and The Postman Always Rings Twice and Suicide and A Single Man. Books to read again and again. Books to obsess over and devour.
It is an engrossing read, perhaps because of what isn’t being said as much as all of the seemingly-extraneous detail that is being provided.
Chicago Sun-Times Gift Guide
Salon: Michele Filgate
Salon: Jason Diamond
Vol. 1 Brooklyn: Jason Diamond
Vol. 1 Brooklyn: Michele Filgate
Vol. 1 Brooklyn: Tobias Carroll
New York Times
New Hampshire Public Radio
Vol. 1 Brooklyn
The Lantern Daily
The L Magazine
How —– Became a Writer
Braddock Avenue Books
The word that kept coming to mind as I read this chapbook once and twice and a third time was “impeccable.” The writing is quite crisp, almost intricate. Each sentence almost had an aphoristic quality.
Each one seems a set piece, interchangeably, a curio on a slanting cabinet shelf, a mix of play and seriousness, a way of spooling up emotions and spinning them into tiny, hushed things. I would not be surprised to see this thing—poem, hybrid, flash?—alongside the gold-plated petrified bones of a deep sea fish or a looking glass or a dagger or a thimble made of crushed and varnished black bread or maybe even a type of large gleaming hook.
Smart, sharp chapbook. i felt pulled through each section seamlessly and ended up reading this three times in a row. section 8 took the cake for me, but nothing disappointed here.