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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Book Review: Jonas in Frames: an epic by Chris Hutchinson

Chris Hutchinson frames his modern epic, Jonas in Frames, with quotations. The most fitting comes before the Prologue—Aristotle’s “Of all plots and actions the episodic are the worst.” Jonas in Frames presents the life of Hutchinson’s loveable protagonist and too-humble-and-bumbling-to-be-an-everyman, Jonas, in episodic bits of poetic prose. These episodic bits create a writing that is contemporary: a hybrid of both form and content. Jonas, our anti-hero is neurotic and socially awkward. His story is framed by his diagnosis, in the form of the “Lab Notes” that precede each chapter. Jonas recalls events in bits, yet his story ends with a poetic, modern Ginsberg-style rant, which merges events in popular culture:

What is the Holocaust, the Old Man might say, without me? Who remains to speak on behalf of Hiroshima’s irradiated silhouettes? Only I was there. Only I saw the shit go down right before Mao Zedong was caught whispering the word “rosebud” in his sleep. Citizen Kane, let me tell you, wasn’t directed by Orson Welles, but by Frank Sinatra, who was really Veronica Lake in drag…

Part of Jonas’ charm is the self-awareness that Hutchinson presents. Though fragmented, the book shows self-awareness in both popular and poetic culture, breaking the fourth wall to the literary audience. Hutchinson plays with the taboo of mentioning “poem within a poem”—Jonas is a self-proclaimed artist, becoming a writer and audience avatar. Clever literary references are made, for example, Gymnastics’ “How many times can you pretend to be about to start to read Ulysses” and “But maybe you could still hook an existential thread, unravel the fabric of your ache, and have some new material with which to begin again—as an MFA creative-writing student?” With the MFA reference, Hutchinson plays homage to a writerly lifestyle, and Jonas in Frames is the contemporary writerly book that balances hybrids of sorts.

Hutchinson also treats love, or at least infatuation in a contemporary way. In today’s fast-paced world, our protagonist experiences love and lost within the chapter. Jonas shares Brooklyn hipster tidbits with Ursula, an early love interest. The contemporary sense of the book comes in the dialogue followed by swift narration. As the reader transitions between paragraphs of dialogue between Jonas and Ursula, we later become lured by longer italicized and scientific descriptions, following the pattern of symptom and diagnosis. Jonas’ later flashbacks of Ursula’s blue eyeliner ground the book in poetic device and repetition—Hutchinson grounds the prose with this musicality and swiftness.

This swiftness creates a narration that isn’t just a story, but a full-on twenty-first century research experiment: breaking down the not-quite everyman. Jonas may be episodically framed, but his story is fully Generation Y.


REVIEWER: Dorothy Chan is a 2014 finalist for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship. She is poetry editor of Hayden’s Ferry Review. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Plume, Cha, decomP, and The Great American Poetry Show.

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