Attack of the Jazz Giants and Other Stories
by Gregory Frost
Published by Golden Gryphon Press
320 pages, 2005
Baffled and Loving It
Reviewed by Andi Shechter
Gregory Frost is one of those authors I'd been wanting to catch up with and Attack of the Jazz Giants was my first taste of his work.
We started off great. While I often will skip around an anthology, for any number of reasons -- first lines that grab me, length of story, whim -- I began with this book reading "The Girlfriends of Dorian Gray" which was the first listed and which had such an intriguing title. I loved it. It's the madly creative story of a man who can eat and never grow fat. It's a very satisfying story. And no, I'm not going to let you down by saying "and that was it" because there's a lot to like in Jazz Giants as well as a wide range of story themes. I can recommend "Touring Jesusworld," a lovely sarcastic look at religion and modern culture dedicated to Damon Knight.
But then came a rather baffling situation. And again, this is a collection of short stories, not all will work for everyone. But when an author provides commentary, as Frost does here via a short afterword, then I look to it for explanation. In the afterword for the title story, Frost talks about how often you don't know when you'll get an idea for a story. He then describes a poem that "has nothing whatsoever to do with the subject or the nature of the story" saying, however, that it provided a spark. The story is completely baffling to me; I have no idea what it means, why it is and I was hoping to be enlightened by the comments, since I felt a fool for not, after all understanding the title story of a collection in which gigantic musical instruments appear in the home of a Klansman. And when the author says "I haven't a clue, either" it's pretty dismaying.
Other stories rock. "Madonna of the Maquiladora" is a terrific science fiction story about Juarez and seeing the Madonna, except it's really not. I don't want to say more, just know that it works. I don't buy the premise of "The Life of Justin Argento Morrel" exactly, but it's well written. And if I were a Poe fan, I'm sure I would have gotten much more out of "In the Sunken Museum," but alas, it's a little baffling when you haven't read much of Poe's work. As for "Some Things Are Better Left" again, good story but I'm not sure the afterword provides useful information. For the record, though speaking as a fan not an author, yes (prom) and no (reunion).
The book, I think, would have been better without the interior illustrations. They're awfully good, mind you, but in at least one case, the artwork was a total spoiler for the story I was to read and it made the surprise within the story land with a thud.
A final note; when I review a work I try not to comment on the more extraneous things about a book, like typos or typefaces or artwork. While they can and do enhance or detract, it seems more fair to focus on what a book really is, on the words, the ideas. But the cover of Attack of the Jazz Giants is gorgeous. If I were Gregory Frost, I would want the original of this cover art hanging in my house. | June 2005
Andi Shechter has been a publicist, chat host, interviewer, convention-planner, essayist and reviewer. She lives in Seattle with far too many books, an old-but-cute purple computer, not enough soft toys (including a small but select hedgehog and gorilla collection), many figure skating videotapes and an esoteric collection of hot sauces. There's a Hugo Award on her mantelpiece which belongs to her partner, cartoonist and artist Stu Shiffman.