Book Review: JERKS by Sara Lippmann

March 29, 2022

The desire that permeates the stories in Sara Lippmann’s Jerks is darkly, delightfully messy. What she renders best is the kind of desire that seems baseless. Why do I want the small random things that I do on a daily basis? I don’t know, simply because I do. And the characters here are much the same. They want, they ache, they reach for, they get, and it doesn’t really matter why they do any of this, it simply matters that they have.

The stories are peppered with guilty pleasures and unconventional hobbies—reality tv, making slime, giving complicated homemade gifts during the holiday season—which lends every story, no matter how quick or strange, a peppering of reality. Even when the stories veer from the domestic to the strange, these shots of the everyday provide firm ground for deviation. Like in “Runner’s Paradise”—I won’t spoil the strange, I enjoyed discovering it too much myself)—the almost monotonous background of taking up running is the perfect routine around which to construct something a little unusual: “In the beginning, the exercise feels futile, like chasing my own tail. By the second week, I start to understand—the purpose lies in the pursuit. I set goals, draft a schedule. I tell myself: Reach. Each day, I go a little further. Each day, it becomes a little less awful.” It’s a scenario that any non-runner attempting to run, myself included, knows.

The lens rarely ever shies away from an uncomfortable moment. At the beginning of “A Beastly Thing,” the protagonist Skylar informs Kevin—a fellow parent with whom she is on a little vacation—that “breastfeeding makes her horny.” This, in the very first line of the story. We are dropped in immediately to the discomfort, and are left to reckon with it, and the ramifications of those words, alongside Skylar. But these moments are not formulaic in placement and do not always kick start the story. In the collection’s opener, “Wolf or Deer,” the story ends in discomfort, rather than beginning with it. And from that moment, the reader is propelled into “The tennis moms are talking about Polyamory,” the tantalizing opening line of “Har-Tru.”

The women in Lippmann’s stories are wonderfully and quickly crafted, even when they are not the narrators or protagonists. Consequently, the role of reader here often feels voyeuristic, and sometimes not voyeuristic enough. The most fascinating characters of “Let All Restless Creatures Go” are the women populating the sidelines of Nick’s story: His aunt Lena, who replies “Why? Don’t I seem happy?” when asked if she’s okay; Professor Jay, a wetlands ecology teacher fighting to rescue baby turtles and, rumor has it, caring for a husband with early on-set dementia; and “[t]he girl in purple: Sahara Rain,” manic pixie dream girl to Nick’s moody lead.

The imagery, too, is quick, and it is fresh. “Pull apart couples melded like two halves of grilled cheese,” “a kinetic mouthful of fenced whites,” “they are watermelon, bubble bath, a box of White Claw; they are a summertime party.”

There is a great deal of longing in these stories, longing with a dark underbelly. Lippmann is a master of sharp detail and quick delivery. Perhaps my favorite moment in the entire collection comes in “Don’t You Swim,” when she ends a recounting of a protagonist’s abortion with “Later, she’d stab herself black and blue with needles of progesterone and wish she could have harvested away better parts of herself for when she truly needed them.”

More often than not, I found myself rereading paragraphs to ride the waves of Lippmann’s sentences a second, third, or fourth time. I reread whole combinations of stories just to feel the nature of their proximity again. For as painful as the stories could be, I laughed or snorted in almost equal measure. I loved these stories for their flavor, for their mixture of escape and reality, and for their double punch of pleasure and pain.

Publisher: Mason Jar Press

Publication date: March 22nd, 2022

Reviewed by Kathryn Ordiway




At The Masters Review, our mission is to support emerging writers. We only accept submissions from writers who can benefit from a larger platform: typically, writers without published novels or story collections or with low circulation. We publish fiction and nonfiction online year-round and put out an annual anthology of the ten best emerging writers in the country, judged by an expert in the field. We publish craft essays, interviews and book reviews and hold workshops that connect emerging and established writers.

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