I hate this man, Joe January. Hate him. Even as my respect for him grows, possibly even… a begrudging sort of affection. Who knows? Maybe someday we will see eye to eye and I will be able to say – January, you’re a helluva man, and I’m enriched to know you.
This is precisely what makes January’s Paradigm such a remarkable book. I have read it once, twice, and will read it yet again. January and I have an ongoing relationship, and that’s how alive, how real, how tantalizingly, aggravatingly vivid his author has made him. J. Conrad Guest has created a kind of anti-hero, a Bogey sort of tough guy, a man’s man who I suspect, deep in his isolated, walled-in heart, would very much like to be understood, appreciated, and… oh shivers, but yes, loved. His motto in life is to move through it unscathed by petty emotion. His relationships are not relationships at all – they are brief physical encounters. He cheats on the one woman who matters most in his life, and that is unforgiveable. Or is it? Because here is the intrigue of the book, here is Guest’s sheer mastery of the art: he has created a character who transcends boundaries of reality and fiction, who pops through the shell of the author’s skull and speaks to him, speaks from inside of him, and one man transforms the other and is then transformed himself in the process. He is the strength of a man as well as his most despicable weakness. He is the muscle as well as the whimper. He is the beacon in the storm as much as he is the shadow every man winces to find in himself if he is a man at all. If nothing else, January has courage. The kind of courage necessary to face his own weakness, his own shadow, his inner beast. He has the courage to recognize his cowardice in seeking only the most shallow of encounters with the parade of women in his life. How many men can do so? For all his fist-fighting, damsel-rescuing, tough-talking bravado… this is January’s true gold. He can look in the mirror, and he is willing to see.
Infidelity is a wound inflicted on so many of our relationships, yet it scarcely draws the attention of anyone, save those involved. So many marriages split at the seams, so many families are broken, so many lies told, so many temptations succumbed to for so little, if any, reward. But have we the courage to understand why? Have we the courage of Joe January? Society has taken a microscope to the suffering of women caused by infidelity. Women, after all, are the warm-hearted sex that speaks freely of emotional pain, and sheds tears in public forums. Women’s emotions are socially acceptable. Men, on the other hand, are encouraged from boyhood to be tough and thick-skinned and to hide their softer side. Joe January is very much a man society has created. If he is a man closed off from emotional intimacy, from the ability to love, have we the courage to acknowledge that we have required him to be this way? That we have made this sort of man our hero? While whining about the lack of sensitive men, have we indulged in doubletalk, still stubbornly giving the nod of respect to the man who is mean and hard and difficult to pin down? Have we encouraged the warm-hearted man to wear his heart on his sleeve, while secretly still pining for the bad boy? J. Conrad Guest has written a novel that reveals this conflicting message society sends to its men. He has created in “January’s Paradigm” a hero who struggles with his emotional barriers. He writes about a male perspective on infidelity. Yes, men hurt, too.
January’s Paradigm is the first of a promised trilogy – books that will, the author says, stand alone but also show a continued evolution of this intriguing character, Joe January. I am most eager to read the next one, “One Hot January.” I expect at some point I am going to be won over by this tough character. The process is well underway.
About the author:
Zinta Aistars is the published author of three books (a short story collection, a children’s book, and poetry). She is an editor for LuxEsto, the Kalamazoo College alumni magazine and contributing writer to Encore magazine. Her work has also appeared in Welcome Home and Parade of Homes magazines. She has published poetry, travel essays, stories, and articles in the United States, Latvia, England, Sweden, Germany, and Australia. Her work also appears on several Web sites – webzines and ezines – including The Surface (upcoming August 2004 issue), River Walk Journal (upcoming Sept/Oct 2004 issue and again in the Nov/Dec 2004 issue), The Redbridge Review, The Moon, Bobbing Around, Burning Word, Insolent Rudder, coilMagazine, Poems Neiderngasse, The Paper, Poetry Life & Times, QuietPoly Writer’s Magazine, and others.
Zinta is the recipient of the J. Jaunsudrabins Latvian Literary Award, the Erik Raisters Young Latvian Writer’s Award, the Goppers Fund Latvian Literary Award, and has won two prizes in both the short story and poetry categories in the Kalamazoo Community Literary Awards 2000. She is currently at work on a second collection of poetry as well as a compilation of essays that describe her many travels both as a physical journey and as an exploration of an inner landscape. Also freshly underway–a novel called Beds, in which all scenes take place in and around beds.