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Jenny and the Jaws of Life: Short Stories

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3.73  ·  Rating Details ·  1,276 Ratings  ·  182 Reviews
In these wonderfully funny and poignant stories, Willett's eccentric, complex characters think and do the unconventional. Soft, euphonic women gradually grow old; weak, unhappy men confront love and their own mortality; and abominable children desperately try to grow up with grace. With a unique voice and dry humor, Willett gives us a new insight into human existence, show ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published September 14th 2002 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published 1987)
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Mikki Apparently it means she speaks in a manner that is pleasing to the ear. What story was that in?

Community Reviews

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christa
May 30, 2009 christa rated it really liked it
I have an unrequited beef with Jincy Willett that dates back to weeks ago when she wrote in the NYT's Book Review that Sarah Dunn's flaming piece of chick lit "Secrets to Happiness" was not, in fact, chick lit. This, of course, led to me researching the reviewer to find ways to extract from her the $23.99 she owes me for lying. Unfortunately, when I can across her own list of novels and short stories, I was surprised to find that Willett's stuff looked like stuff I might want to read.

With her m
...more
Olivia
Sep 10, 2010 Olivia rated it liked it
I just got this book for $1, and already I am happy and sad about that. Why didn't I pay more?
Shannon
Jul 01, 2008 Shannon rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone
Recommended to Shannon by: david sedaris
The term "brilliant" is thrown around a lot, and not always accurately. But in this case, it's very apt. This is just brilliant. "Justine Laughs at Death" was downright disturbing, what with the allusions to rape, murder, and torture, and the weird bird imagery and cryptic phone calls. But very good. And "Best of Betty" was really funny. The whole thing is very witty, and I think Willitt is up there with Amy Hempel as a short-story writer who uses the minimum amount of words to their maximum awe ...more
Chance Lee
Jan 21, 2015 Chance Lee rated it liked it
Shelves: short-stories
Jincy Willett's short stories are interesting in that very few of them have a clear arc, or a complete plot, instead it's just a bunch of things happen to a character, and now make something of it. I guess that's every story, when you think about it, but hers even more so. The last story, "The Jaws of Life," addresses this in its opening line: "According to Hannah, real life just happens, whereas stories make sense. When you put real life in print, she says, you show it up for the pointless mess ...more
Nitya
Mar 25, 2012 Nitya rated it liked it
I recommended this one to my book club after reading about David Sedaris' rave review of this book, which was actually first published in 1987, and then resurrected and reprinted after Sedaris wrote about how much he loved the book. Being a big Sedaris fan, it seemed logical that I would love Jenny and the Jaws of Life.
Have you ever invited someone to watch a movie that you absolutely loved, and then watched it with them, wondering the whole time, if really the movie wasn't that great after al
...more
Mintwitch
Jul 11, 2008 Mintwitch rated it it was amazing
I have had a good run of books over the past week or so. Jenny and the Jaws of Life was so good that I'm tempted to take a break from reading and revel in the goodness. Instead, I will reread Jenny...

Short stories are difficult. They are difficult to read and they are extremely difficult to write. Few hit the "sweet spot," the point at which there are precisely enough words to complete the idea, not a single word too many or too few, and each perfectly suited to it's purpose. Jincy Willet has a
...more
Joshua Gross
Aug 28, 2014 Joshua Gross rated it it was amazing
This was an intense collection of short stories. All of them resonated and meant something, all of them had depth and complexity, and it made it a little difficult to read at work because I'd finish one story and just have to move on to the next one without time to recover. Jincy Willet is amazing, and her stories show that. She has a perfect understanding of human nature and of human interaction.

These stories occasionally have a feel about them that is specific to that time period and that gen
...more
Erica
Mar 15, 2011 Erica rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories
This is a truly fascinating book of short stories, but if you decide to read it you probably shouldn't read "Under the Bed" just before going to sleep. And if you do read "Under the Bed" just before going to sleep, don't continue on to "Justine Laughs at Death" to try and make it better. And if you do go onto "Justine Laughs at Death", at least read it all the way through. Don't give up and try to go to sleep in the middle, no matter how early you have to be up the next morning. Trust me.
Rachel
Jun 17, 2014 Rachel rated it it was ok
The 13 short stories in this collection are witty, well-constructed, contain beautifully written passages, and Willett shows a lot of insight into human nature; nonetheless, I disliked this book a lot.

Originally published in 1987, it was reissued in 2002 with a new introduction by David Sedaris, who is quoted on the cover as saying, "[i]t's just the funniest collection of stories I've ever read," which, if true, could mean that all the other collections he's read are autopsy reports. It's neith
...more
Michael
In his introduction, David Sedaris piles tons of hyperbolic praise on this collection, including calling it the funniest collection of stories ever, which just ain't the case. Most of the stories aren't actually funny nor are meant to be.

This is dark, self-conscious satire, of an annoying eighties vintage that feels very much of its time and the many varied collections published during that recent golden age of short fiction. But with a few exceptions, the stories here, they feel more like the
...more
Sarah Hine
Jul 05, 2009 Sarah Hine rated it really liked it
I picked this up because in the forward, David Sedaris explains how he considers this book a true gem which help shaped his own literary voice. Using basic logic: I love David Sedaris. David Sedaris loves Jincy Willett. Hence, I will love it too. And I did love it. Not because it made me burst out laughing while riding the train to work (which is why I love Sedaris), but because it had so many great turns of phrase, twisted and rich plot lines, and disturbing but absorbing characters. Willett's ...more
Meghan
Sep 15, 2015 Meghan rated it liked it
Shelves: short-stories
This book and I had a date at the Korean Women's Spa this week. The stories I enjoyed most were the first two and then the later story told in the format of an advice column. The themes start to repeat themselves and I didn't enjoy the last two stories in the collection. Very similar in tone to the David Sedaris collection Barrel Fever.
Susann
Oct 15, 2016 Susann rated it really liked it
Recommended to Susann by: David Sedaris
Shelves: re-read
A dozen years after my first reading, I still think this is an excellent collection of short stories. My 2004 review probably would have been more glowing than this one. But if I seem tepid now, I think it's due to the timing of this re-read and how the mood of the stories wasn't quite what I was looking for.

According to my paper book journal, my favorite story in 2004 was "Justine Laughs At Death." This time it was "The Haunting of the Linguards."

Last read: 03-12-2004
Sam Ferree
Feb 27, 2014 Sam Ferree rated it it was amazing
I honestly have no idea where this book came from, but one day I found it on my shelf and decided to read it. Most likely, it was required reading for a course that we never got around to reading. Either way, I'm glad I held on to it.

There's no great way to describe Willett's style. It's humorous and devastating. I highly recommend it.
LooseLips
Dec 06, 2007 LooseLips rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone who is smart.
this is simply one of the most under recognized, hugely intense, beautifully written books i have ever read. i feel lucky to have discovered jincy willet (although david sedaris might've found her first) and recommend everyone read this book once or twice a year for the rest of your life.
Emily Mellow
Sep 30, 2012 Emily Mellow rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories
These are darkly humorous stories. One or two I didn't like, but there are enough great, unique stories to make the book a choice read. I generally prefer a novel to short stories, but these flowed nicely from one to the next...
Matt Fitz
Dec 26, 2016 Matt Fitz rated it really liked it
David Sedaris revived this 1987 collection of short stories in 2002 with his foreword/review calling it the "funniest collection of stories I've ever read - really funny and perfectly sad at the same time." I would recommend you read "funny" to mean its less used definitions of "quirky" or "peculiar." Her imagery and variations of narrative were complex and intriguing. The stories lack the typical short-story arc with tidily wrapped endings and there is a tinge of the macabre or dark humor (kids ...more
Morgan
Sep 26, 2016 Morgan rated it it was ok
Shelves: short-stories
The first few stories are pretty strong, but it goes downhill from there. I'd try another book by Ms. Willett, but I don't see myself rereading this one or passing it on to a friend.
Justine
Feb 08, 2009 Justine rated it liked it
Shelves: library
Having recently fallen in love with Jincy Willett's writing, I purchased Jenny and the Jaws of Life to recapture that delicious feeling I got when reading "Winner of the National Book Award." Alas, what resulted was the exact sensation I got the first time I read any Austen after starting with Pride and Prejudice: the distinct feeling that if I read this first, I would have loved it and not been, instead, vaguely disappointed.

Jenny and the Jaws of Life is a good collection, but it also clearly s
...more
Librofilia_it
I tredici racconti contenuti in "Jenny e altri imprevisti" di Jincy Willett sono tutti pervasi da una costante sensazione di solitudine e di spaesamento e pur mostrando una vena ironica e umoristica, soprattutto nei confronti delle avversità, sembrano possedere un ascendente piuttosto cupo, sinistro e imprevedibile nonché una speciale propensione verso la morte, che è in qualche modo presente in quasi ogni racconto.

Recensione completa: http://www.librofilia.it/jenny-e-altr...
Miss
Jun 12, 2016 Miss rated it really liked it
i enjoyed this! i also kind of want to meet david sedaris now because he recommends this as the funniest set of stories he's ever read and if that's true he has a BIZARRE sense of humour and i'd like to hear more about it

i saw a couple of reviews that found this collection depressing which is interesting because a) i never felt that way and b) these stories feature matricide, rape, a serial killer, a false claim of sexual abuse, unhappy marriages, dysfunctional parenting...why on earth didn't i?
...more
Jenny
Jul 05, 2009 Jenny rated it it was ok
Recommended to Jenny by: Colleen
Whoah, that was a dark read! Sure, the writing is tight, and it's (short stories) psychologically insightful into turning points in people's lives. But this is dark, full of murder, rape, and other graphic, disturbing stuff. So be warned. I had nightmares the night after I read it. I did get a kick out of "The Best of Betty," about a vicious advice columnist who take her comments so literally. Nevertheless, of course I managed to find some quotes I liked:

--"We drive in the rain through pitch-bla
...more
Gina
Nov 15, 2009 Gina rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2009, 2011, 4-star
I don't think the book blurb is entirely honest. The description of the stories as wonderfully funny and poignant and the characters as eccentric and complex sounds like it was borrowed from a Fanny Flagg cover by a lazy publisher. It's fair to say that this book is funny, but not in the way you might expect given David Sedaris' endorsement. As dark as he can be, he's still light enough to have become a sort of national treasure. Jincy Willett's work is sharp and sardonic and probably not for ev ...more
Kathy
Dec 23, 2014 Kathy rated it liked it
Shelves: short-stories
I read this book of short stories because it's an all time favorite of David Sedaris, who praises it quite highly in his preface of a collection of short stories he edited called "Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules" (from which I learned that Sedaris and I share an affinity for darkly comic and satirical short stories.)

While I didn't enjoy this book as much as I'd hoped, the story "The Best of Betty" alone is worth the price of admission -- it's a truly hilarious parody about an advice
...more
Scotchneat
May 01, 2011 Scotchneat rated it really liked it
Lesson the first: always follow book recommendations from David Sedaris. As he avers in the forward, "I am prepared to wear a sandwich board for this book".

The people in these stories are slightly other-wordly, sardonic, strange and compelling. Willett has a great ear and sardonic wit. I was caught snorting several times on the train while I was reading it. There were more than a few turns of phrase that wouldn't sound strange coming from Sedaris, so that gives you an idea of what you're in for
...more
Taryn
Jan 22, 2010 Taryn rated it liked it
One of the best collections I've read, filled with some genuinely tragic figures (little Marsha in "Mr. Lazanbee" who puts herself in harm's way to get attention) written in a highly amusing style (gracefully clumsy Melinda in "Melinda Falling")... highlights being the ones focused on relationships, like "The Haunting of the Linguards" about how a ghost sighting affected the perfect marriage, "Anticipatory Grief" about how a daughter grieves the death of a her father, and "Under the Bed" about t ...more
Patricia
Dec 20, 2011 Patricia rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories
I picked this up from a free book box on campus because it features a quote from David Sedaris on the cover that claims, "It's just the funniest collection of stories I've ever read--really funny and perfectly sad at the same time." I generally enjoy Sedaris' writing, and "really funny and perfectly sad" tends to be one of my ideal tones, so I decided to give Jenny and the Jaws of Life a shot, even though I had never heard of Jincy Willett.

Turns out, this collection is definitely worth a read, a
...more
Elizabeth
Aug 06, 2008 Elizabeth rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories
Fun for the lovers of dark humor. Some of the stories were both touching and frightening in an existential sort of way. I've already loaned my copy out 3 times, and I hope that I get it back, as I don't usually loan out books. A pleasure to sink into the strange world of Jincy Willett and inhabit it with her people.
I absolutely loved this book. My- what dark little stories -- it was recommended by David Sedaris, and everything I've read on his recommendation I've enjoyed. Wonderful Short Story w
...more
SmarterLilac
May 26, 2009 SmarterLilac rated it really liked it
Great, with the occasional (read: frequent) odd moment. Though not as balanced or polished as Jincy Willett's other books, which makes sense as it is a short story collection and not a novel, Jenny and the Jaws of Life is as tenderly bitter as her additional works. Most stories in here are humorous with a touch of melancholy, except for 'Under the Bed,' an undeniably serious piece about rape. Rarely do I want to use the phrase, 'I laughed, I cried...,' but I'll do it here. Funny, and heartbreaki ...more
Ron
Nov 25, 2013 Ron rated it it was amazing
Willett writes like no author I can think of and it would be a great disservice to attempt to sum up the emotional impact of this collection in brief (sadly, I do not have the time to delve into each story). What summation I can provide is to say that she treads the gray areas of relationships and emotions and exposes the most harrowing details of the inner lives of characters while expressing a view of the world that in unlike any other. She longs for the freedom from society, our cultural and ...more
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from the author's website: "An aging, bitter, unpleasant woman living in Escondido, California, who spends her days parsing the sentences of total strangers and her nights teaching and writing. Sometimes, late at night, in the dark, she laughs inappropriately."
More about Jincy Willett...

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“According to Hannah, real life just happens, whereas stories make sense. When you put real life in print, she says, you show it up for the pointless mess it really is.” 4 likes
“Kenneth was a sitting duck. In fewer than three years he would kneel alone in this very room, on the exact spot where he now stood, emptying the contents of his desk into cardboard boxes from the liquor store while his gaunt bitter wife reviled him in the Goldbergs' living room and choked the Goldbergs' big brass ashtray with with unfiltered cigarette butts, and if anyone were then to ask him for the secret of a happy life, he would answer: Stasis.” 1 likes
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