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Novel set in California “positively loaded with clever imagery”

15th March 2017

Wait for me, Jack by Addison Jones, novel set in California, near San Francisco.

Jacko and Billie, both in their early twenties, meet in a San Francisco office in 1950. Billie is a young typist whose only ambition is to be married and have children and has already decided that her role in life will be to make some man happy. Jacko, a couple of years her senior, is smitten by her Marilyn Monroe hairstyle and her cute knees and asks her out. Billie, however, already has a date that evening and rejects him but, on the spur of the moment, just as he’s disappearing around a corner, she runs after him, shouting. Jacko stops and turns around, with a look of “pure, smart-ass delight.” The second chapter, set in 2014, shows us the couple, now Milly and Jack, in their eighties. The description of the pair is brutal in its honesty. Jack is cranky and creaky, kept alive thanks to a plethora of tablets. Milly’s incontinence pads sprout out of her pyjama bottoms and she smells of urine and worse.

Screen Shot 2017-02-05 at 18.44.59

Wait for me, Jack then works backwards, telling us the story of Milly and Jack’s marriage in reverse. On the whole, it’s not a cheery story. Jacko is selfish through and through and has given Milly a very difficult life; there have been countless affairs including a child by another woman. He is incessantly critical of her, thinking that her life at home with their five children has got to be easier than his working life. Milly dreads accounts night, when Jack, who keeps rigid control of the household budget, will make her justify every cent she has spent. Milly is an engaging character: likeable, dreamy, generous of spirit and the reader’s sympathies rest with her, more often than not. However, we are also given, here and there, the other side of Jack; the man who had intellectual aspirations and dreamed of becoming a novelist.

The novel is set in California, near San Francisco, but there is little sense of place, as we are constantly in Milly and Jack’s heads, hearts and home, but, what it lacks in place, it more than makes up for in time. This is a really powerful evocation of period, from the fifties with its rigid rules and restricted roles for woman to the sixties and the San Francisco flower power era.

Wait for me, Jack is skilfully written; it is full of poignant, sometimes heart-stoppingly painful descriptions and positively loaded with clever imagery, as Jack and Milly try to make sense of their marriage. Early in the novel, Jack ponders that marriage might be like dancing to radio music. “You didn’t know what song you’d get next.” On the other hand, Milly thinks that marriage might be like “an imperfect haircut one just had to endure till it grew out”. It’s probably worth reading just for the imagery alone and it’s certainly a thought-provoking read and brilliantly observed. The problem is that it is more of an analysis of a marriage than a novel. The structure, with its reverse plot and constant jumps back in time, simultaneously makes for a disjointed read and complete loss of anticipation, which is a shame when there is so much else that is good about this novel.

Ellen for the TripFiction Team

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