Kurt Cobain once said: I’d rather be hated for who I am than loved for who I am not. In her short story collection What Boys Like: and Other Stories, Amy Jones illustrates many characters who, in these fifteen brilliantly well-crafted tales, much like Cobain, revel in their own uniqueness of who they are, rather than who they are not. Jones takes great care to explore the tenuous, callous and often humorous boundaries of human relationships, while maintaining one consistent theme, it seems: everyone has something to lose.
In “How to Survive a Summer in the City,” Jones explores the understated love in the mother-daughter relationship at the center of the story. Jones is smart, using a “to-do list” as a witty framework to house her character’s desperate and, at times, wholly disappointing expectations of one another. She does well to balance the heavy moments in the relationship, and in the story, with subtle sarcasm. What buoys the piece is the clever way Jones unifies mother and daughter at the conclusion through the simple act of a spider’s death. Both Stacy and her daughter have been let down, but the end leaves them lighter and content with the realization that the imperfect can, for an instant, sometimes be perfect.
“Julia’s little sister Joey disappeared on the same night Kurt Cobain died,” begins the third tale of the collection, “One Last Thing.” For Nirvana fans, a read of this story might induce humming of the band’s well-known ballad, “All Apologies,” given the cycle of destructive behavior and then remorse that plagues both central characters, sisters Julia and Joey. What is most striking about this piece is Jones’ use of language, which, especially throughout the last two pages, harnesses the damage associated with singer Cobain, and, like him, is bleak and beautiful, dark and delicate.
“Miriam Beachwalker,” mid-way through the collection, is poignant in its depiction of loneliness and the search for voice among all the noise. “The Church of Latter-Day Peaches” gives the reader a new way to mourn, the tale undeniably characterized by grace that can only come from tremendous tragedy.
The beauty of Jones’ work, image, and content is rich, both cynical and optimistic, and a portraiture of life through fresh eyes. Each tale, grounded in both the light and the dark, is smart, full of truth, and jostles the mind into process without leaving anyone out of the remix. Readers will find it hard to shake the pull and anchor of this collection.