June’s Featured Book of the Month: Amy Jones’s What Boys Like

What Boys Like by AmyJones
Biblioasis (2009)

Winner of the hip-assuring Metcalf-Rooke award! (Previous winners: Rebecca Rosenblum & Kathleen Winter)

This is fresh, new, fearlessly vibrant writing. Amy inhabits moments, she potently exorcises memories from her characters and you experience their longing or panic or exultation. The innovative structure in many of these stories should be celebrated, read, and emulated. It gets to a point where, What new can happen in writing, really? Every story has been told. A hundred times. That’s where Amy Jones comes in: every story might have been told one hundred times, but not the way she delivers them. This is where she excels: what Amy Jones does with narrative structure and point of view in some of these stories is innovative, epic, and unforgettable. In “How to Survive a Summer in the City” she uses ten tips, like Seek out free air condition, as pagebreaks. Pagebreaks that tie in to the story in clever ways as shifting points in the story. Amy’s radical switch in POV in the heart-wrenching “One Last Thing,” a story of a sister whose sister has run away, took the story to a level of potency no other technique could have. And after being floored a few times by her narrative wizardry, you think, What else does she have up her sleeve, and story after story she’s hauling out some new literary stunt, some new way to make her story enthrall you. I read “An Army of One” and I forgot to breathe. Read this full collection and you’ll never forget her, you might even consider her 2009’s big discovery in CanLit short fiction. I do. I’m really quite jealous I haven’t written some of these stories myself. My only complaint about this collection is that the opening story, a fine and solid story in isolation, doesn’t showcase Jones’s greatest talent. (Granted, “her greatest talent” is a relative claim, so I am being bias, a critical faux pas.)

Jones’s stories are as vibrant as the book’s cover. This is lively writing, punchy diction, and critically acclaimed dialogue, with closing lines that are occasionally a whole lot more for the deeper reader. They are character-forward stories featuring memorable characters — like the longing, list-writing Miriam Beachwalker — and if the title gives the illusion it is a sexually charged book: at times it is. The writing in stories “An Army of One” and “All We Will Ever be” censor nothing about the line between lust and longing, and properly captures the potency of unrequited love or, forgive me here, “the power of love.” The writing is tender in places and explicit in others, so that the vivacity of memories, passion, emotion, and desire punch through more than effectively.

Also commendable: she tells her stories in a way that is all Amy Jones. She tells them in a way that alternates between a wind-stealing punch in the guts and a playful punch on the shoulder. These stories, at times, fierce, powerful, and sexually charged, come from a tender, honest, and at-times vulnerable place, not an obnoxious, boisterous one. It is a deeply human collection, as vibrant as the front cover image. 

What Boys Like is on my top ten best collections of short stories. It’s her understanding of how to best tell a story, her explorations with narrative structure and POV are cutting and effective, and never gimmicky or repetitious. See “How to Survive a Summer in the City,” “One Last Thing,” An Army of One, “Twelve Weeks,” or “All We Will Ever be,” for a lesson in What Salty Ink Likes about Amy Jones.

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