Ulysses and I had already read this novella in the Crack the Darkest Sky Wide Open anthology, but after over a year, I think we have recovered enough to read it again for review. May I say the cover by Reese Dante for this single release is just perfect.
Title: John & Jackie
Author: TJ Klune
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Cover Artist: Reese Dante
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
John and Jackie first laid eyes on each other when they were twelve years old. Now, seventy-one years later, Jack prepares to give his beloved husband the ultimate gift. Before he does, they’ll relive five key moments from their younger lives together over the course of a single afternoon. From their first meeting and first kiss to the violence of an abusive father and the heartache of growing up, these moments have defined who they have become. As sunset approaches, John will show the depths of his love for the one man who has made him whole: his Jackie. They’ll soon learn there is no force more powerful than their devotion to one another.
1st Edition published by TJ Klune with The Crack Crew, May 2013.
Well, both times, as I finished reading “John and Jackie,” I was a sobbing mess. Now, I cry all the time when I read, because I’m just that kind of guy. But this story is particularly poignant for me. It cuts very close to the bone, and it is told with painful realism.
John and Jackie meet as middle-school boys in what I calculated to be 1942. As this long story begins, John and Jackie are both eighty-three years old, and John is dying. No spoilers here; that’s how it starts. The magic, in what is surely one of TJ Klune’s most low-key and lyrical pieces of writing, is in the succinct yet heartfelt retelling of these men’s lives together, from the middle of World War II until the second decade of the 21st Their tale is unrolled in a series of carefully calculated flashbacks that focus on key moments in their shared life. There is nothing of the outside world here; no references to history or current events or social upheavals. This is all about them.
As their seventy-one years together are revealed to us, so are the preparations for what is clearly an endgame. “John and Jackie” is nothing less than the narrative of what every one of us dreads, combined with the narrative of what many of us dream of. The hard truth is that one can’t be had without the other.
There is a certain impossible purity to John and Jackie’s love for each other. But I like that, because it’s what I myself dreamt of as a closeted teenager struggling to come to grips with myself in the early 1970s. In this way there is a fairytale quality, a belief in the very happily-ever-after that drives the gay romance market in today’s literary world(and yes, I do mean literary).
However, Klune, himself only 31 when he wrote this piece, has touched on something that only those of us at a certain stage in our life ever allow ourselves to consider: the end. No one gets out of this game alive. There are, ultimately, no happy endings. Each of us has to cope as best we can with the final hand we’re dealt.
My husband and I met at the respective ages of 22 and 20. Thirty-nine years later there is a lot of history between us. What Klune, who could be our son, has managed to capture is something that took me by surprise a few years ago: the realization that, in spite of everything that we’ve experienced, in spite of all that has happened to us individually and as a couple in all these years, we are still, remarkably, the same boys we were when we met.
In spite of the gray hair, the wrinkles, the gravity-shifted body, my husband is still the same blue-eyed boy with shaggy black hair who stole my heart in 1975. He opened a world for me just as John opens one for Jackie in Klune’s story. We are to each other now just what we were then, for all the layers of happenstance and history that have accumulated. Perhaps that’s why we have survived, in spite of everything the world has thrown at us.
I don’t expect we’ll have to face what John and Jackie face for another twenty-five years. But there’s no question that we’ll have to face it. I just hope we can face it the way John and Jackie do.
And that’s what made me weep.
When Ulysses emailed me his review, the covering note said ‘Well that was messy.’ I know what he means. I sobbed when I read it the first time and I sobbed this time too. The dedication may explain why it makes both of us break down,
This little story is for those who have ever loved with their whole hearts.
With that dedication TJ Klune makes this story all inclusive. With that dedication TJ Klune underscores what the LGBT community, and their Allies, have been trying to say for decades, ‘Love is Love’.
This is a true novella in that everything that needs to be said is said, and the story is complete. By restricting Mr Klune, who by his own admission can be somewhat verbose, his writing skills shine through. This author can play with his reader’s emotions almost without parallel. John & Jackie, as Ulysses has said in his review, is a story all of us will face in one form or another, and like love, death is the great leveller. Love and Death do not care if you are gay, straight, bi, trans’ or permanently confused!
The author is a being a tad disingenuous when he refers to John & Jackie as a ‘little’ story, it is a huge story. This story covers Life, Love, Death and everything in between and after. TJ Klune takes the big themes and distills them into a story that we can all relate to. This is without doubt the best novella I’ve ever read, and yes that is a big statement to make about a ‘little story’.
I could wax lyrical about this line or that, or why this works or how this small touch makes all the difference but I won’t. What I will say is read this novella but have tissues, and someone you love in the house to hug when you finish. I am not embarrassed about crying in novels it is a sign of a good writer that they can convey emotions well, through words. I sobbed in John & Jackie and my heart ached, as I too thought of my beloved Husband, and like Ulysses, the fact we would have to face this event one day. I can only hope for the strength and dignity shown in this story when our time comes.
I would like to thank the publisher for providing me with the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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