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“Jesus has monkey toes and breasts”

Jim Valvis is writing again.

Jim Valvis is writing for the web again. It's been a few years. Back when writing for the web was an exclusive activity for those with 1-inch overbites, Jim was a different sort of voice, a Carver-influenced writer of fiction who managed to craft some great prose while gloriously pissing of dozens of people who wrote for the web by actually applying critical standards to their work.

I know he probably doesn't want his old work seen any more, but this is as good as it gets, in my opinion (found on the web archive): The Disappearing Fathers of Jersey City.

On some mornings, one father or another wouldn't be there. You saw it all the night before. A police car came. It parked outside and the lights swirled around and around. The lights were all over your room and the sound was loud enough to shake your curtains. “Fuck him,” the boy's mother would scream. “Get the son of a bitch out of my house!” Something like this was always said. Something mean and true. The show was always on.

Jim's new work is also strong. In reading the recent posts, seems to me that fatherhood has tempered his anger, given him a different perspective. Recently he put up a dialogue between a father and a very young daughter:

D: Right, and who else has monkey toes?

S: Daddy has monkey toes?

D: And who else?

S: Grandma has monkey toes.

D: And who else?

S: Jesus has monkey toes.

D: Well, I don't know.

S: Jesus has breasts!

D: No, no! Jesus is a boy. He has a chest.

S: Jesus has monkey toes and breasts.

S: Daddy has monkey toes?

D: And who else?

S: Grandma has monkey toes.

D: And who else?

S: Jesus has monkey toes.

D: Well, I don't know.

S: Jesus has breasts!

D: No, no! Jesus is a boy. He has a chest.

S: Jesus has monkey toes and breasts.

It's simple, but when you read the piece entire, you get a sense of a writer at work, someone trying to make the prose hum, unafraid to let other levels of meaning float to the surface without pushing flags into them to draw the reader's eye.

When I first came across Jim, writing for the web was an utter soap opera. These were the halcyon days of 1996, when there were perhaps 1000 or 2000 personal narrative sites. My girlfriend at the time fell in love with the sheer excess of online writing, and she would tell me about all the scandals: a web writer left her husband, and the husband, a computer programmer and company founder well known in the Macintosh/NeXT community, took over her web journal and wrote in embarrassing detail about his sense of loss. Then another site popped up and began to cover these events in cruel and lurid detail. A woman would be revealed to be a man, web journalers would meet, sleep together, and describe what happened, and in-jokes like Cut While Shaving, “a online jernal” would emerge. Cut While Shaving was a scandal, and no one knew who wrote it. It seemed funny at the time but rings hollow now.

But there were some talented people in the middle of all of it. Jim was one, and he put about three novels-worth of prose up the last time. I'm glad he's come back for a while.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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