You know a John Jodzio story when you read it: Kinky sex. Drug abuse. Senseless violence. And a sense of humor that somehow makes all those things hilarious.
The Minneapolis author known for his balls-out narratives is back at it with a new book, This Is The Only Orientation You’re Gonna Get, the winner of Quarterly West’s 2017 Chapbook Competition.
The 18 flash fiction missives contained therein bear blunt titles like, “Most of You Know Me From Losing My Virginity To The Ben Franklin Impersonator” and “Last Summer I Had Sex With A Hair Stylist Named Lori Once Or Twice a Week.” But if you think Jodzio gives it all away upfront, you’re wrong. In “The Two Men,” a waitress makes out with a cover band musician and a butcher, then pits them against each other to rid herself of a bad dream involving suspendered men fighting in the rain.
“I Came To This Orgy To Honor My Pet Snake Tito” features an orgy attendee miffed that another man died in his favorite sex chair. “I’d come to this orgy to grieve…to put on a sex mask and stick my penis into a bunch of living, breathing people, and maybe a dessert or a casserole,” the narrator says.
These stories are even more bizarre when you consider their author, a seemingly straight-laced, desk-job working husband and father. “There is a definite divide in some way between my real life and the writing side of things,” Jodzio admits. “I’ve had a couple of interviewers meet me face-to-face and be like, ‘I was pretty scared to meet you,’” Jodzio says.
No wonder, given his propensity to recruit creeps and predators as the protagonists of his stories. Once, a story published on The Toast took heat from readers for its Peeping Tom narrator. (Acclaimed author Roxane Gay came to Jodzio’s defense.) This collection also features a voyeuristic character or two who spy on others having sex, but Jodzio says those stories are remnants of earlier writing days. “I’m not not proud of those stories but the humor in them is not as funny to me [now],” he says.
Why Jodzio feels compelled to explore the deep recesses of his brain isn’t entirely clear; he got his rebellious phase over with in high school. “I was not a particularly good student and I did a lot of stuff for the sake of comedy instead of studying,” he says. “This is sort of detrimental in my life and in my writing, but I’m always sort of looking for the joke instead of delving into things a little bit deeper. But that’s who I am.”
Jodzio’s stories aren’t exclusively shock-jock material; just when you start to suspect he’s a bullshit artist writing his way through a tried-and-true formula (strange person meets stranger person, then something whacked happens), he’ll drop a truth bomb of human emotion. In a story about a county pie contest, contestant #2 “tells them her secret ingredient is love, even though she knows love tastes like salt.” A story that imagines an alternate universe where a 19-year-old Channing Tatum gets into a knife fight and loses his lower lip could be read as a commentary on the societal value of beauty.
And then there are Jodzio’s just-for-laughs stories, like the one about the Roomba that can’t stop boning its owner’s geode “from that one-week period about three years ago when I seemed to only be able to write stories about Roombas,” Jodzio says. “It was sort of like Picasso’s blue period.”
Jodzio launches This Is The Only Orientation You’re Gonna Get at Moon Palace Books on Friday. This summer, thanks to an Minnesota State Arts Board grant, he’ll take his readings on the road to four small Minnesota towns. Will they appreciate his crazy tales in the same way city-dwellers do? “It depends on the night to night crowd no matter where I am,” he says. “If people don’t get what I’m doing, then it doesn’t play well anywhere.”
He’ll also continue writing his detective novel, but don’t expect to see it on bookshelves too soon; it’s been years in the making. “Now that I’m writing a novel, I want to do anything but the novel, so I’ll shift right back into short stories,” he says. “I never get sick of writing them.”
IF YOU GO:
With Sarah Askari and Peter Bognanni
Moon Palace Books
7 p.m. Friday, April 13
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