You Only Get Letters from Jail is Jodi Angel’s second short story collection. The collection follows young men between adolescence and adulthood. Angel’s characters are desperate. They are motivated by cars, women, and hope for an escape from circumstances that leave them hopeless and trapped. As noted in an online description “Angel’s gritty and heartbreaking prose leaves readers empathizing with people they wouldn’t ordinarily trust or believe in.”
Whoa. This collection really blew me away. I became distracted and several months passed between when I read the book and when I initially set out to write this review. To refresh my memory, I went back and re-read a few stories and the reaction was the same. That I could return to the collection and react in almost the exact same way is a testament to the absolute power of the stories. I can’t wait to read her first collection, The History of Vegas. Angel’s writing is raw and brutal in its precision and heartbreaking depth. Her ability to inhabit and capture her male characters was inspiring. Every main character in the collection is male and most are from a first person perspective, which is fascinating because Jodi Angel, of course, is female. I love it when writers push boundaries in narration and writing style, but to do it so completely and successfully, and sustain it throughout, was a delight to read.
Take away for my writing:
This collection moved me to take chances. To keep writing the brutal life experiences that I write and not be afraid. To keep embracing the dark side of humanity, remembering that I can pull empathy and beauty from unexpected places. It’s my goal to try to give my readers an experience similar to the one that Angel gave me.
Strengths: Character depiction, realistic situations, emotional resonance
Weaknesses: The desperation and lack of hope in many of the stories might wear on some readers, I suppose.
Favorites: “A Good Deuce,” “Snuff,” “You Only Get Letters from Jail” (and others)
Least favorites: “Gap,” “Catch the Grey Dog”