Book Review: Jam by Yahtzee Croshaw

Just finished this one. Amazing book.

Jam is exactly what it says on the tin – a book about an apocalypse no one in their right mind    would have predicted, because seriously. Brisbane, Australia getting consumed by man-eating strawberry jam?

With that kind of summary, I sort of threw the book into my ‘to buy’ pile almost immediately.

Jam opens with the aforementioned crisis, and very soon has a mismatched group of survivors band together:

– Travis, slacker, the dude who has no idea what he’s doing here, why he’s survived, and probably doesn’t contribute much overall. Unsurprisingly still the protagonist.

– Tim, Travis’ flatmate, childhood pal, occasional musician but mostly still a slacker. The jampocalypse turns him into an ambitious visionary who wishes to set up a settlement of his own and probably eventually rule the world.

– Angela, journalism student, conspiracy theorist, often found running around investigating or just shoving her camera lens into people’s faces.

– Don Sunderland, game designer, unhealthily obsessed with a hard drive containing his game’s build, which he will never abandon even at the cost of his life or the lives of others. The team’s straight man and sane guy.

– X and Y (formerly Y and X), two American agents who are both bad at lying and their jobs. Everyone knows they’re up to something.

– Mary, Travis’ new pet Goliath Birdeater (aka some species of tarantula) whom he lifted from somebody else’s tank. Very adorable.

Throw in a corporate tribe of office persons and an ironic holy cult of 4chan-ers into the mix amidst the backdrop of man-eating strawberry jam, and there you have it – a survival story swathed in action, color, and spades of WHAT IS EVEN GOING ON (BUT THIS IS GREAT).

 

THE GOOD

The whole premise of the story. Let it be known that as a fan of weird shit happening all day every day, the one-liner of ‘apocalypse by the hands of strawberry jam’ caught my attention immediately. I love stuff like this. It’s hilarious and it’s imaginative. Because yes, survival tales have been done before. But not survival tales at the hands of jam.

The characters. Everyone in the book seems to parody at least one archetype of survivor you’d usually find wandering around post-apocalypse. Everyone has their own asinine goals and the way they go about pursuing them is…pretty intense, to say the least. Because each of them is so different, it’s easy to tell one character’s voice from the other, creating an easy platform to facilitate almost all kinds of humor.

And since I’ve gone there, the humor in Jam is fantastic. You have Travis the Protagonist who’s running around like a chicken, desperately trying to rationalize at times, making slow-witted comments other times, and generally being dragged around. And bless Don because he is insane and wonderful and I love his character. He spends all his time making dark/angry comments about everything and everyone, and his deadpan sarcasm in a world gone mad is amusing like no other – not to say that everyone doesn’t have their moments. And come on, there’s even obligatory post-apocalyptic social satire.

Jam is also a book with slapstick comedy that can basically be described as ‘shit happens, characters react and cause more shit to happen’, rinse and repeat. To pull something like this off in text takes some serious talent.

And the dialogue is great. The book is written in such a way that the dialogue is snappy, never stopping for long monologues because c’mon. With nearly all life seemingly wiped out, who’s got time to stand around contemplating it? Jam gives us a lot of clean, fast and funny lines that are often delivered in an engaging manner. It’s not just the snark, but how vocalizations can be written from ‘ARGHHHHHH!!!’ to ‘AhfjkdshjA’ instead of the simple ‘AH’ to illustrate reactions. You can practically see all the action through the dialogue alone, because the book uses text to color out each and every scene in a vivid way.

 

THE BAD

Travis can get annoying. You know what they say about passive protagonists. Travis isn’t exactly the best of the ‘get up and do stuff’ category, and in fact most of the time he’s just reacting to situations, and trying his best to be indecisive. And if there’s something I hate, it’s people who can’t make up their minds. I wouldn’t exactly call Travis a good protagonist, even if he is a funny one. His inability to do anything can get frustrating especially as the book’s events draw on, but on the bright side – he does get better (kinda).

Lack of character development. Though the rapport between the characters combined with the insanity of the book’s setting creates an entertaining story, it still doesn’t excuse the characters from never developing past their stereotypes. They’re still funny as hell though.

The ending felt a little rushed. How does one end a post-apocalyptic story on a satisfactory note? That ending seemed hurried compared to the amount of time and drama it took to build it up to that conclusion, and everything was over in a flash.
 

OVERALL THOUGHTS

I think it’s fairly obvious that this is my first encounter with one of Yahtzee Croshaw’s works, and I freaking loved reading Jam. Despite its flaws, it still serves its primary purpose – to delight and to entertain, which was delivered magnificently. I don’t know how many more fancy words I can use to basically just say SO ENTERTAINING again and again, so I’ll just leave it at that.

As a person who likes colorful stuff and tons of funny shit, it almost feels as if I’d been waiting for a book like this to show up in my life. Jam is going right onto my list of favorites. Am I going to be looking out for more of Croshaw’s works? YES.

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