Apr 22

Josie and Jack: It's Complicated

Author Kelly Braffet, Josie and Jack cover, creepy vampire toddler doll

From left: Author Kelly Braffet, picture by Juliet Varnedo; the front cover of Josie and Jack; a creepy vampire toddler doll I found via Google image search for the author’s name and which I felt I needed to share.

A week and a half ago, I reviewed Owen King’s Double Feature as a blog post. I did that mainly because I couldn’t get it out of my head, so writing a review seemed like the most reasonable thing to do. But then it occurred to me: hey! I am writing a book. And I read books. And I blog. And when I read books I review them somewhere. Goodreads, Facebook, somewhere. Why not do that here, on my blog? So that’s what I’ll be doing from time to time. Totally makes sense, right?

Last weekend, I read Kelly Braffet’s 2005¹ debut novel Josie and Jack. Braffet is the wife of novelist Owen King, but that’s not why I decided to read her novel. I’d actually put it on my to-read list some time ago, when a friend recommended it to me. It moved to the top of the list when she tweeted her adventures with a new pair of purple Dr. Martens boots. (Attention, authors: I cannot guarantee that wearing purple Docs will get me to read your book. I can only say that it worked the once. I am notoriously fickle. Actually buying me a pair of purple Docs would probably do it, though.)

Obligatory description: Josie and Jack is a creepy, twisted coming-of-age story, told from the point of view of 16-year-old Josie. Imagine Hansel and Gretel, except the dad’s a physicist whose favorite hobbies include throwing raging tantrums and gleefully relishing the inevitable end of humanity. He has isolated his two teenage children (Josie and older brother Jack) from society since their earliest youth, leaving them unsupervised all week while he teaches three hours away, then conducting guerrilla homeschool on the weekends. What could possibly go wrong?

The first thing I noticed about Josie and Jack is that it is surprisingly short, something like 240 pages.² I will read fiction of any length, but I was a little concerned that the book’s brevity might be an indication of an incompletely told story. I needn’t have worried. It was just as long as it needed to be and no longer. Flipping through it now, I am surprised at how soon things happened, sooner than I remembered. Basically, it’s a 240-page novel that feels like 340 pages. The pacing is effortless, though it does get right to the point.

Braffet excels at creating atmosphere. The first page of the book, the first sentence, pulled me in. By page 10 I understood clearly that this was not going to end well for everyone involved. Before the end of the first chapter, I thought it might not end well for anyone involved. Whether it did or it didn’t, I won’t say, but I will say that considering how the story played out, the ending felt inevitable. The epilogue is a different story, and I’ll get to that shortly.

Reading, I was reminded of another book that had a heroine I liked, but not quite as much as I wanted to. That book was Survivor, by Tabitha King (who just happens to be the author’s mother-in-law; you cannot make this stuff up). In both cases, the characters made choices that made me wince—and yet, from their perspectives, I don’t know what else they could have done differently without some sort of deus ex machina intervention by the author, which would have been cheating. And I hate feeling cheated when I read … so really, it’s better this way. I guess sometimes it’s like the character Vera Donovan in Stephen King’s Dolores Claiborne³ (another book that is all about very strong women) said: “Sometimes being a bitch is all a woman’s got to hold on to.”

So all that is fine. (I think certain people might argue with me about that, but that’s half the fun.) In fact, I almost loved this book unreservedly. Almost.

While I was reading, I completely bought everything that was happening, but after I was done, I kept thinking about the epilogue. About what it suggested, and whether or not that was a reasonable thing to suggest. And maybe it’s because I have watched too many episodes of CSI (probably less than 10, but really it doesn’t take more than one to grasp the concept), but … I’m not sure. I’m just not sure.

Still, it’s a fine book. Despite its faults (which might not be faults at all), I don’t hesitate to recommend it. I’ll certainly be reading her second novel Last Seen Leaving, as well as the new one she’s got coming out, Save Yourself.

¹Yeah, so … I don’t feel in any way compelled to only review new books. It’s best we get that out in the open now.

²Conveniently, it’s still on my desk, so I just verified that it is, in fact, 241 pages, including the epilogue, which is really part of the story proper.

³I KNOW. I know. But I can’t help it; it fits.


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  1. Shasta

    As soon as I saw “certain people” highlighted I just knew it was me! And it WAS!

    I have been thinking about this a lot. As usual, and as you know, we disagree on the ending for different reasons.

    I can’t get into this too deeply on here because I don’t want to cause spoilers but I think I see a new reason as to what happened happened.

    And now I will text you about it.

    1. Evelyn Stice

      Yeah, I thought about that thing you said but didn’t mention (haha, comments in code, what fun). Totally makes sense. But still … I feel like there might be more law enforcement involved than was mentioned.

  2. Bryant Burnette

    I haven’t read either of Braffett’s books yet, but I’m looking forward to it; what I’ve read by her consists of one short story and one essay, both excellent.

    1. Evelyn Stice

      This was the first I’d read of Braffet’s at all. She-who-is-currently-on-vacation recommended it to me, and recommended books tend to head my to-read list, especially if I am reasonably sure of the recommender.

      I have a little reading group on FB, and I recommended it there. (Interestingly, a friend asked me if it was a YA book. I wasn’t sure how to respond to that. I believe I said, “Well, it has young adults in it.” That particular distinction doesn’t much matter to me. Heck, I’ll reread “Where the Wild Things Are” if it happens to be around.) So yes, I’ll definitely be picking up her next book and also the new one coming out. Not right away, probably; I have a lot of books on my list, so I try to not stick with the same author for several books in a row (unless it’s a series). But both are on my Goodreads to-read shelf.

      1. Bryant Burnette

        Considering that virtually no days go by without me reading for at least half an hour or so, I am astonishingly poorly-read. Sometimes, it feels like the only things I read are books by Stephen King or books that are associated with him in some vague way.

        Or some garbage like what I just finished: “The Starless World” by Gordon Eklund. Which, yes, is indeed a Star Trek novel from the ’70s. Sigh…

        1. Evelyn Stice

          Well, a person could read a book a week for a year and still not be through all the Stephen King novels. Plus, he is really good. And … you do have that site …

          I love Goodreads and getting recommendations from people, and I try to expand out a little bit, but my heart is in speculative fiction. It just is.

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