cover image Prodigals


Greg Jackson. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25 (240p) ISBN 978-0-374-23813-1

Privileged characters confront the spiritual emptiness of contemporary life in this deeply felt and sparklingly erudite debut collection. In “Wagner in the Desert,” a writer joins a cadre of young professionals—“sustainability experts, P.R. lifers... that strange species of human being who has invented an app”—on a drug-fueled trip to Palm Springs, Calif., only to find himself deflated by “regret that we had grown self-knowing enough to avoid our mistakes.” In “Serve-and-Volley, Near Vichy,” a different writer comes under the spell of a tennis legend whose celebrity may or may not have made him insane. In “Metanarrative Breakdown,” the star of the collection, a visit by the narrator to his dying grandfather becomes an occasion for a contemplation of narrative and language: “All the words we had for everything added up to a cataloged death sentence of the discrete,” he thinks, “turning the raw matter of experience transactionable at the cost of making experience itself inaccessible.” Jackson’s exquisite insight and mandarin prose style call to mind David Foster Wallace and Ben Lerner, but his preoccupation with the demise of romance, wonderment, and spirituality in our hyper-knowing age seems entirely his own. “It was not so much information that lay beyond my reach,” one character thinks, “as a sort of presence, of shared and consummate openness, a kind of psychic nudity.” [em]Agent: Samantha Shea, Georges Borchardt, Inc. (Mar.) [/em]