Masterworks review

I wish I knew more about art. Reading the titular story, I found myself reaching for my phone to understand each scene in the strange and delightful post-apocalyptic tale. As I held the painting in my mind, and explored the flooded wastes with Liam, Nell, and Co. I found myself enamored by the framing. How often are our relationships held together by a retelling of an old picture? Are we always trying to build a life out of the classics of our youth? There’s a survey of life, and an exploration of lost moments in these vignettes.

The opening tale of this collection plants us in Ohio, a place, we see, where even supportive friends or loved ones can’t save you from the yawning abyss. The suburban Olive Garden echoes in my mind with all the breadsticks I absorbed through my high school years. These youth were me, and the chasm felt real then too. From there, we follow a mother who lost a son, and a sliver of a life exploring a name—just enough of both to leave the reader wanting more. Then, a journey through art, mentioned above. It’s strange and beautiful, and a great opportunity to learn about the great works of fine art, if like this reviewer, you largely skipped-out on art class.

Finally, we readers are washed up on the shore, like so many dead fish, with a man watching a lodge, and time-displaced, dealing with an all-too-familiar moldy bathroom. A word of warning: if you’ve lived in the the Pacific Northwest, the squelch of wet tile will be all too real. This novella is reminiscent of Jack and the Beanstalk, or another fairy tale of exploring a new land. The phrase “crotchal belch” made me laugh out loud. There are so many great turns of phrase in Masterworks. The story propelled me forward, alternately laughing and cringing. I wanted the protagonist to seize his agency, and change in the ways he so clearly desired. I find these characters at turns fascinating and deeply frustrating. There were so many places where I yelled, “say something” in my head, but this isn’t a story of success, but learning and remembering.

On the whole, I loved this book. Masterworks, by Simon Jacobs, is a fantastic collection of imagination, and creative bombast. At times it leans into magical realism, in others outright fantasy. There a slightly disjointed nature to these stories, as they’re collected over years of writing, and lead me to hope Simon writes more—a novel perhaps—in the future.