We know why the children who read Harry Potter identify with the main wizard. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was magic in the world? And if there was, of course I would be one of the magicians. Even if I couldn’t be Harry (though secretly, why wouldn’t I be? why shouldn’t I be?) I wouldn’t be a muggle. Once upon a time, I could watch zombie films and apocalypses until the mutant cows came home (1). Omega Man, Mad Max 2, The Terminator, Afternoon Tea of the Dead, and always, I’d be identifying with those swift survivors, the ones who scurry just ahead of the blood thirsty hordes.
But what is the truth? Almost to a one, even if there was a secret world, the millions of children reading HP would have no access to it. They would be ordinary. Just like they are now. At best, at the very best, they would be the failures of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, who took their one shot and flunked out of the secret exam, and even had the fact that they tried wiped from their minds.(2)
Without even a whiff of the fantastic (3), Ron Dionne has in “Sad Jingo” written a novel about magic. The magic of the real world, of the fantasies in our head. The longings that leave us all muggles, staring in through windows at the other worlds of which we can never be a part.
Jingo is sad. Something is broken, and does not allow him to put together the pieces that let us get through the day. He makes magical guesses and throws disparate parts together, in a sort of lottery of hope that they’ll stick and he can make his way in the world. Like all lotteries, the winner is someone else on TV holding an oversized cheque, which Jingo does not get to see at all, spending the night in the Tombs instead. Others around him, like Chinee Chester, with his music and different girl every night, seem to win all the time.
Different though he is, not all of his everyday longings are so far from ours. Trying not to stare at the nubile, breathtaking Nina. All the things he cannot have. The thing he wants the most though, is to play jazz. And here, Jingo is like the daydreamer in all of us. Jingo does not want to learn music. He does not want to practice music. He does not want to be able to read music. “I gotta feel it, not read it. For it to sound good.” Jingo wants to be magic. He just wants to play music, and not just that, he wants to play like Thelonious Monk. He wants the gods to fill him, only in this way, and but for a little while. Is that so unreasonable?
Of course it is. His cousin Harold knows what is going on. Its “like you know something the world doesn’t and it requires special action.” It has to be special, nothing so mundane as practising more or learning to read music. That’s too obvious, or not obvious enough in the cracked window through which Jingo views the world. “I like playing piano” he writes to Dianna. “But I am not good because I have no one to play for.” Of course.
Surrounding Jingo are those who want to live off the magic. Some like Harold refuse to compromise, but know their place – “I’m a behind-the-scenes kind of guy”. Others, the agent Rasmussen, and Howard’s business partners, may have been touched by the magic once, but now, more or less bitter, have nowhere else to go. This is the only way they know to make a living. And then there is Joy Chant, ageing singer, an actual artiste, who speaks the truth: “Even those of us that get somewhere, Jingo, we hurt inside wishing we could get somewhere further”. There is always another inner circle – “Wish I could belt one out like Tina Turner or Aretha now and then. Or could improvise like Betty Carter”. The magic is always just out of reach, for everyone.
Dianna terrifies me. Her brokenness is not at the level of functionality. Unlike Jingo, she knows what is going on, but she is scary in her desperation. I am sure that I am not the only person blogging here who has half a novel or two tucked away somewhere. That is how I came across Ron’s blog in the first place, where he makes insightful comments on the ultra-marathon of the persistent unpublished, and the new publishing paradigm. Dianne’s making a fair living, good enough that she just can’t throw it away to risk everything on her dreams. Then success, on a massive scale. Again, Ron shows us those making their living from hovering close to the magic, the agents, promoters, and Mikkelsen, the bizarre 600 pound interviewer for Vanity Fair. But the scary bit:
“scurrying about full of dreams and plots and characters and dialogue and settings, piecing them together, stopping when inspiration struck to write something down in her little notebooks, feeling charmed, feeling that one day she would make it, making it being having something officially hers on paper bound in bookstores where people could pay for it and take it home and read it … How certain she’d been that it would happen one day. How long she’d felt that certainty. And then how the certainty had fallen away. And how in its place had grown the certainty of years of drudgery…”.
AHHH!! Too close to the bone, Ron. Yes, we are special, we dreamers. Hitler, dreaming of being an artist, failed and had to settle for an attempt at world domination.
Ron Dionne has shown me a world of New York jazz clubs that I will never know, and a world of literary success that I’d at least like to have a sticky beak at (I don’t need to win a big lottery prize, a little one will do). This is a successful book about failure, about the consequences of dreaming. His characters follow their dreams, and sometimes, someone else’s. In many cases, they shouldn’t have. I look forward to “Sad Jingo’s” successor.
Its cheap! Buy it, download it, and read it for yourself.
Sad Jingo by Ron Dionne
(1) “corpses gathering outside a farmhouse, moaning and tripping over their feet, wearing the tattered uniforms of their forgotten lives: he’d loved such films when he was a boy, not understanding how true they really were. What were the living dead, Wolgast thought, but a metaphor for the misbegotten march of middle age?” The Passage by Justin Cronin, p 174 *sob*
(2) These days, I don’t even identify with the survivor who is killed off early in the film. I identify with the bleached skulls crushed so easily beneath the metallic feet of the stripped back T-100s, or with the anonymous basketball court dead of Contagion.
(3) I leave to one side the “Black Robes” magic of using words to put a world inside someone else’s head.