October 1, 2012

"Jack and the Mad Dog"

By Tony Earley
~6000 words

Jack, of Jack-and-the-Beanstalk fame, lusts after a farmer's wife, gains the ability to see in the dark, has a run-in with a talking dog, and receives a scolding from a disappearing duo of buxom maidens.

This tongue-in-cheek retelling of the classic English folktale seems intent on two different things. First, it wants to demystify, so we start out with a drunken, lecherous Jack, more interested in mounting the farmer's wife than the beanstalk. Second, it wants to metafictionalize, so soon we have a character aware of his own fictional status, hoping for "passage into a proper story" as he struggles wildly "through miles and hours and years and lifetimes of corn and section breaks and the exposition implied therein."

One problem is that neither of these two strands is particularly original. Even Disney has jumped on the demystification bandwagon, and metafiction has been around at least since a character in Cervantes stumbled upon an Arabic-language manuscript that turned out to be the story of Don Quixote. Even so, if Earley had stuck with one of these strands, he might have produced a successful story. Instead, after six thousand words we still have no idea where the demystifying thread has led us, while the metafictional impulse seems to have produced a snake devouring its tail. "The black dog is going to get us all," one of the buxom maidens frets. "He's eating all the stories up from the inside." Indeed.

Which is a shame, because the language of "Jack and the Mad Dog" is fresh and strong. Unfortunately, it's insufficient to overcome the tedious narrative.


Reader poll: I found "Jack and the Mad Dog" to be ___.

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