John the Posthumous
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"After reading Jason Schwartz, it's difficult to talk about any other writer's originality or unique relation to the language. John the Posthumous is a work of astounding power and distinction, beautifully strange, masterful." -Sam Lipsyte "[Schwartz] is complete, as genius agonizingly is." -Gordon Lish "Haunting, original prose by a writer unlike any other on the planet. Jason Schwartz is a master." -Ben Marcus John the Posthumous exists in between fiction and poetry, elegy and history: a kind of novella in objects, it is an anatomy of marriage and adultery, an interlocking set of fictional histories, and the staccato telling of a murder, perhaps two murders. This is a literary album of a pre-Internet world, focused on physical elements - all of which are tools for either violence or sustenance. Knives, old iron gates, antique houses in flames; Biblical citations, blood and a history of the American bed: the unsettling, half-perceived images, and their precise but alien manipulation by a master of the language will stay with readers. Its themes are familiar - violence, betrayal, failure - its depiction of these utterly original and hauntingly beautiful.
calamities, 1863: spring and summer. An attic collapses under cannon fire. Lightning destroys a porch awning, a Dutch door, a wedding trellis. A cyclone destroys eight chimneys and a balcony. (Mr. Porter, the lodger, removes to the cellar with a fowling piece, a flannel hat, a crate of dirt, and a pasteboard face.) How to survive a household fire, 1905: crawl to the door. Or remain in place. Or hang a white bedsheet from the window—and cry out your wife’s name. Family disaster plan, 1926: three
right. A pitchfork or an orphan pin—one of these, I believe, meant the heart. Organ knives were designed for the windpipe, the lungs, the intestines, and so on. While the bed knife—sometimes called a pale or a picket, after the fashion of the more lavish axes—was an indication of shame, in every case. Hold it this way, at night, and it resembles the neck. Have the shadows as you prefer them. The maul sword, for the cleaving of limbs, was said to die as we do. A strange notion, that, given the
location of the gouge—rather green from across the room—and given the hilt in the light. The ridge is blue, like the wound—but easy to mistake for a stain. A black emblem, to the left of the fault, shows the town’s arms and, in the background, a pattern of animals. The spine reflects a portion of flesh. The man stands at the window, the woman at the bed. A knife box of the period—in locust or elm—might display the family name. Calfskin would conceal the nails. Hinges of the spike type—shot
1752 excludes the carriage and the roofline. Mr. Twitchell—having stabbed to death Mrs. Twitchell—hangs at Penton in June. The hood is a white cap, in fact, with three defects. The dissection is performed at Surgeons’ Hall. There follows a quiet fall on a gravel walk. The Anatomy Act of 1830 excludes the attendants, two and two. The steps—at Bristol, at Vickers, at Westgate—are painted red. At Hackett, the sexton stands at a rail. A ladder, by contrast, would imply a schoolroom or a barracks.
funeral weeds, had been stabbed through the hands, the staircase at the back of the chapel, or in a tower, his body carried out in the morning—the spire was a needle spire. In Bedminster, the tower once housed two prisoners—the first thrown to his doom, as they had it, and the second drawn and quartered, the remains sent north to the wrong town. FOUR The word cuckold also refers to certain insects. Take the cuckold fly—which is actually a beetle, and which feigns death quite gracefully. The