A review of Jake with a Snarly Smile on His Chops by Matthew Ward

This is something of a boys own adventure story, billed by the author as a few hours entertainment, and as that, it succeeds admirably. There are plenty of chuckles, and lots of mouth watering detail which bring the setting, both time and place, at least the 80s part, to life.

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Jake with a Snarly Smile on His Chops
A novella
By Matthew Ward
Independence Jones, 2004, 56pages
ISBN 097520937X

Jake is a pretty unlikely hero. Free of regrets, he attributes his great fortune and personal well-being to booze, sex, greed, and ‘a little extra something.’ Written in modern Kerouac styled prose that eschews punctuation, uses ampersands for ‘ands,’ and has a colloquial style which not only permeates Jake’s dialogue but also those of the narrator, Jake with a Snarly Smile on his Chops is a fun, racy, and light hearted read.

The story is engaging enough, and the reader is drawn into the evocative world of the 1984 Sydney, from the leafy suburbs to Kings Cross, and the promises it holds for a couple of hungry young men. The narration is done in two distinct parts which vacillate between the “present” which is set in 2015 (though it could be anytime), and Jake’s reminiscing, set in 1984. The 47 year old Jake starts the story by providing his take on life and how to be a winner, to Larry, an eager 18 year old he meets in an RSL club. The story moves between Sydney and Newcastle at a very rapid pace, and the lack of punctuation gives the reader a sensation of breathlessness which also mirrors the drunken mind of its double narration. The narrator’s voice is equally colloquial, and isn’t presented as a character, which leaves the reader wondering who is winking at them. At one point the narrator even presents the reader with an emoticon, which will only work if the reader is really yawning, otherwise it has the effect of a joke which doesn’t make its audience laugh.

Other tricks in the story include a liberal use of CAPs, dialogue inconsistently set out in play form with colons after the names, lots of dashes, the occasional use of + instead of &, a liberal use of “Okker” expressions (which will confuse anyone not Australian) and exclamation marks. The effect is to signal to the reader that this is a comic work, and one to be read quickly, without pretension. Once the reader gets used to the lack of punctuation, it is easy to slide into Jake’s head, and experience the stream-of-consciousness motion along with the characters:

Past the TVs there on the platform this time #6 & into the train as whistles all shrill countered the loud roar of the engines that stunk like the diesel 4 wheel drives that bellowed over near their school on afternoons when the sea was calm & the sky pristine & blue; then to a place at the end of one of the carriages where there was an in-built drinking fountain in the wall carrying icy water that tasted like smoke, & waxy paper with cups mounted upwards, hidden a few shelves in the corner to place luggage & through the little door window, chest-height, into the carriage you’d se the colour of the seats was a filthy olive green. (17)

The pace and rich detail of Jake with A Snarley Smile on His Chops work well. The dialogue is believable, and Ward presents a clear sense of place, with lots of kaleidoscopic detail. On the downside, none of the characters are well developed, and Jake himself, or what we get to know of him, is deliberately unlikeable. Once the story finishes, the reader won’t spend a moment thinking about Jake and his snarley fate. That is, of course, equally deliberate. This is something of a boys own adventure story, billed by the author as a few hours entertainment, and as that, it succeeds admirably. There are plenty of chuckles, and lots of mouth watering detail which bring the setting, both time and place, at least the 80s part, to life. You won’t like, or begin to care about Jake during this relatively brief novella, but you will find his antics amusing, his comeuppance satisfying, and the prose which surrounds him, exhilarating.

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