John Jodzio’s “If You Lived Here” proves Minnesotans can write

A&E reviews new upstart Replacement Press’ first release, a book of sensitive, dark and witty short stories

PHOTO COURTESY REPLACEMENT PRESS

PHOTO COURTESY REPLACEMENT PRESS

Tony Libera

MinneapolisâÄô own John Jodzio has been making waves with his short fiction, nestling his way into literary magazines like Opium and The Florida Review , winning the Loft-McKnight Fellowship and earning the praise of everyone from Chuck Klosterman to local rapper Dessa . JodzioâÄôs next logical step was to publish a compilation of his short stories, and to do so he looked to local upstart Replacement Press . His submission ultimately bested 150 others to become the companyâÄôs first book release. The collection, âÄúIf You Lived Here YouâÄôd Already Be Home ,âÄù features 21 stories, some old and some new, that blend together the surreal and the mundane for results that are oftentimes as funny as they are tragic. Jodzio tackles the biggies in this collection âÄî issues of unrequited love and familial estrangement âÄî but he freshens up what could be stale material with unlikely happenstance and bizarre characters. ThereâÄôs a fine line being straddled, one that allows absurdity without destroying realism. This makes otherwise insane situations, like an amateur vet chaining his suicidal daughter to his car without repercussion, seem somehow plausible. âÄúYou canâÄôt go off on this flight of fancy without having your feet on the ground a little bit,âÄù Jodzio said. âÄúI think my stories would be totally unbelievable if I didnâÄôt make sure that the reality of the story was really solid.âÄù To further cement the believability of his tales, Jodzio makes his unusual characters strangely sympathetic. It would be easy to condemn the protagonist of âÄúFlight Path,âÄù a cutter in a psych ward who sneaks into the room of a married, comatose man every night, but Jodzio masterfully employs a female, first person perspective and makes the protagonist likeable, despite her questionable actions. âÄúWith these crazy things that are occurring, you want to make sure that the person has a soul and that youâÄôre not just using them as a prop to set up some sort of situation,âÄù Jodzio said. âÄúSo, you need to make sure that whatever theyâÄôre feeling is coming out in the story, too.âÄù Downtrodden characters and woe seem to pervade the collection, but Jodzio performs another trick by making the stories comedic. ItâÄôs sad that a poor clown is racked by the dognapping of his beloved Choco, but at the same time itâÄôs too ridiculous to not be funny. âÄúI think what really distinguished his submission beyond many of the others was the humor with which he approached his subjects,âÄù said Andrew De Young , Replacement PressâÄô managing editor. âÄúHeâÄôs dealing with subject matter that in other hands might be pretty serious, earnest, maybe even a little bit depressing, but he approaches it with a little bit of a wink, a little bit of irony.âÄù âÄúIf You Lived Here YouâÄôd Already Be HomeâÄù runs the board from outrageous to poignant, but it succeeds as a whole because Jodzio never loses sight of his characters. TheyâÄôre failures, theyâÄôre contradictions and theyâÄôre entirely human.