cover image The Secret Life of the Panda

The Secret Life of the Panda

Nick Jackson. Chômu (Ingram, dist.), $12.50 trade paper (204p) ISBN 978-1-907681-13-4

With exquisite delicacy and a keen eye for the bizarre, Jackson (Visits to the Flea Circus) creates a series of moody vignettes taking readers from religious strife in 16th-century Holland to a jungle camp of South American guerrillas and the mundane hallways of a contemporary British school. Though dark, depressing, and often minimally plotted, Jackson’s tales carefully probe the hidden desires and emotions of an impressive range of characters, including disturbed adolescents, struggling couples, and a variety of established or budding scientists. The spectacular “Boys’ Games” intertwines the confused cruelties of children in the schoolyard and men at war. And the otherworldly dedication involved in studying or recreating nature comes to life in “The City in Flames” and “Shell Fire,” respectively. Illustrating his characters’ dilemmas via the natural world—birds, snakes, shells, animals—and with the challenges of gender identity and budding sexuality a recurring theme, Jackson provides an uneasy but rewarding experience for the thoughtful reader. (Dec.)