Paperback, 240 pages
Publisher: Granta (April 2016)
Selected by Tank
This is a whirring joyride of short stories. Jackson’s debut collection is a satirical portrait of the elite, the aspirationally bookish types likely to be reading these stories. The collection follows young 30-somethings on their holidays, on a trip to a reclusive tennis player’s French chateau and on a car ride with their therapist. This brilliant book is like dating a clever boy with a prodigious vocabulary, you sometimes feel left behind, but are ultimately gratified for being invited along in the first place.
Wagner in the Desert
First we did molly, lay on the thick carpet touching the pile, ourselves, one another. We did edibles, bathed dumbly in the sun, took naps on suede couches. Later we did blow off the keys to ecologically responsible cars. We powdered glass tables and bathroom fixtures. We ate mushrooms – ate and waited, ate and waited. Then we just ate, emptied Ziplocs into our mouths like chip bags. We smoked cigarettes and joints, sucked on lozenges lacquered in hash oil. We tried one another’s benzos and antivirals, Restoril1, Avodart2, Yaz3, Dexedrine4, looking for contraindications. We ate well: cassoulets, steak frites, squid-ink risotto with porcini, spices from Andhra Pradesh, Kyoto, Antwerp. Of course we drank: pure agaves, rye whiskeys, St-Germain, old Scotch. We spent our hot December afternoons next to the custom saltwater pool or below the parasols of palm fronds, waiting, I suppose, to feel at peace, to baptise our minds in an enforced nullity, to return to a place from which we could begin again.
This was a few years ago in Palm Springs, at the end of a very forgettable year.
When I say that I was visiting old friends, friends from whom my life and my sense of life had diverged, I am not trying to set myself apart. Marta and Eli had lived in LA for a number of years, long enough, I suppose, that whatever logic married immediate impulse to near-term goal to life plan to identity had slipped below conscious awareness and become simply a part of them. I was by no means innocent, either, of the slow supplanting drift by which the means to our most cherished and noble ends become the ends themselves – so that, for instance, writing something to change the world becomes writing something that matters to you becomes publishing something halfway decent becomes writing something publishable; or, to give another arbitrary example, finding everlasting love becomes finding somewhat lasting love becomes finding a reasonable mix of tolerance and lust becomes finding a sensible social teammate. And of course, with each recalibration you think not that you are trading down or betraying your values but that you are becoming more mature. And maybe you are. Maybe you are doing the best you can. But what is true is that one day you wake up dead.
In any case I was writing a book, one that I hoped would make my contemporaries see how petty and misguided their lives were, how worthwhile my sacrifices, how refreshing my repudiations, how heroic my stubbornness, et cetera. Eli and Marta were trying to have a baby. They would spend the ensuing year attempting to get pregnant, and eventually they would, and later this baby, and their second baby, would grant them some reprieve from the confusion we were all afflicted by in those years. But before they had their baby, during the week when this story takes place, they had decided to do every last thing that a baby precludes, every last irresponsible thing, so as, I guess, to be able to say, Yes, I have lived, I have done the things that mean you have lived, brushed shoulders with the lurid genie Dionysus, who counsels recklessness and abandon, decadence, self-destruction, and waste. The Baby Bucket List, they were calling it.
And I was game. Although I was not planning to have a child anytime soon, I thought we could all stand to chemically unfasten our fingers from their death grips on our careers and wardrobes and topiarian social lives and ne plus ultra vacations in tropical Asia.
 Restoril is the brand name for temazepam, a psychoactive downer commonly used to treat insomnia.
 Avodart is the brand name for dutasteride, used to treat enlarged prostate glands. Side effects include erectile dysfunction.
 Yaz, or Yasmin, is the brand name for drospirenone, used as a birth-control pill.
 Dexedrine is the brand name for dextroamphetamine, an amphetamine commonly used to treat narcolepsy and ADHD. It is also used as a club drug.