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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Jesus' Cat


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To purchase Jesus' Cat

Title: Jesus' Cat
Author: Grig
Genre: Stories
Written: 2015 (Eng. 2019)
Length: 127 pages
Original in: Armenian
Availability: Jesus' Cat - US
Jesus' Cat - UK
Jesus' Cat - Canada
  • Armenian title: Հիսուսի կատուն
  • Translated by Nazareth Seferian
  • With an Introduction by Gurgen Khanjyan

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Our Assessment:

B : quite well done, a solid collection

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Jesus' Cat is a collection of twenty stories, vignettes from modern Armenia, from a variety of angles, most realistic (often tinged with a sense of nostalgia, as many are reminiscences of sorts) but a few also going considerably beyond that; with childish incomprehension and wonderment also figuring frequently, the line between these effectively blurs across the collection. Some of the stories include quite fantastical elements, notably 'Two Silhouettes', which features a cursed painting: "All twenty people who had obtained it had each jumped out a window and died a short while after it came into their possession", but even this one is more focused on the personal, the story then mainly about the one survivor. The stories do tend to center on a single individual -- often lost souls: a painter in the opening 'The Little Guy', or a man who walks the streets of Yerevan, always carrying 'A Small Gray Suitcase' (who, in a nice touch: "studied the way people walked and collected them"), their situations coming to a head.
       There's an easy drift of events and observance in many of these short stories. While a great deal is packed into some of them, at least in summary, the story-arcs are quick and concise, with a tendency to highlight specifics -- whether quirks or participants: "Nothing slipped past my eye, no movement escaped my gaze", the narrator of 'About the Clouds' observes, but it is more the awareness of details that is conveyed than an actual, endless recounting of them, an economy of style that makes for memorable characters and scenes, standing out from the loose stories. There's a specificity, too -- a sense of significance to the chosen events -- but many of the stories feature those hidden everyday moments that linger in memory: "It is the sunniest day of my life", the narrator says in 'Selfie with a Teapot', and often the moments are like that, an indefinable specialness to them (how can one possibly judge which day of one's life is the sunniest ?) and yet a certainness as well.
       There's proper suspense to a few of the stories: 'Crows' is a creepy fairy-tale-like story, a successful imitation of that tradition, while the title story, with its effective use of leaving much not spelled out, is haunting in a different way.
       One way Grig makes clear he is reducing his stories to the essential is through his use of ellipses: repeated backs and forths of conversation are left essentially as blanks, as if to actually spell it out would be an unnecessary distraction:

     "How do you know my name ?"
       Often reflective, many of the stories are lifetime-spanning, whether in the summing-up of an encountered character -- the central figures of 'The Little Guy' or 'A Small Gray Suitcase', for example -- or in the narrator reminded of the long-past. The sense of time passing and time passed is often evoked -- particularly well in 'Feathers', with the realistic very slow dawning on the narrator as a child that their friend Artak is different: "The years went by, but Artak did not grow up. It was like time did not notice him; it was passing him by".
       While most of the stories stand entirely on their own, the collection also includes a sequence focused on scenes from childhood and featuring the narrator's same friends, such as Kamil and Hayk. It might have been helpful to separate these grouped-together stories out in some way, even if only in a separate section, as, unlike the rest, they function both individually and collectively.
       These are Armenian stories, the locale occasionally mentioned, but most could easily be transposed elsewhere, Grig more interested in more general human behavior and understanding than in the absolutely localized. A true post-Soviet writer -- born in 1991, Grig's experience is entirely post-Soviet --, Grig focuses on human experience -- often those of childhood -- with barely any interest in the dominant politics: authorities overshadow some of the events -- notably in guiding the lives of the institutionalized children -- but are of the universal (and largely unseen) sort. 'Stigma' is the rare story that brings some of this up -- though the crux here is ethnic, bringing a Georgian boy into the picture.
       Grig writes well, the stories flowing smoothly and easily, and there is a good variety here. They do also show some of the limitations of the genre (note: I am not a fan), especially in collected form; in particular, the stories are mostly too delicate to really stand out against each other -- all the more so given their number in the small space -- while also not similar enough to make for a truly unified collection whose main impression is of the whole (though the block of common childhood stories could have functioned as such). The strongest stories probably work better on their own, out of this not-quite-context; of course, the collection can also be read that way -- very much piece by piece, rather than in quick succession.
       Certainly, there is enough here to make the collection worthwhile -- but mostly it can be taken as a first example of an author's work. The talent is there, and it will be interesting to see a more sustained effort by Grig.

- M.A.Orthofer, 10 March 2020

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Jesus' Cat: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Armenian author Grig (Գրիգի; actually Grigor Shashikyan) was born in 1991.

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© 2020 the complete review

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