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Shuck by Daniel Allen Cox

The weekend before last, I impulsively purchased Daniel Allen Cox’s Shuck at Women and Children First, Chicago’s feminist bookstore and employer of Big Other contributor Jac Jemc. Shuck caught my interest as one of several books in Women and Children First’s gay and lesbian fiction section published by Arsenal Pulp Press, a press with which I was previously unfamiliar. I unashamedly judge books by their covers, and the classy size, texture and design of Arsenal’s books signaled to me they might be a press that values provocative/innovative/language-oriented/transgressive lit. Wanting to learn more about this press, I bought Shuck because, of the Arsenal Books, it was the one that most caught my eye, and because it had a badass blurb from Derek McCormack promising “anarchic delights,” “loopy lists,” “acerbic asides,” and “bursts of poetic description.”

Shuck’s got all these things. I loved it.

Shuck is about a hustler and porn star named Jaeven, and most of its existing reviews and reader responses on GoodReads, etc, seem to focus primarily on that fact, as in, “Hey, did you know this guy’s a hustler? This book is about a hustler. Did you know he’s a hustler? He hustles! It’s totally _________ (<–insert adjective here: “gross,” “hot,” “heartbreaking,” etc, depending upon given reviewer or reader’s worldview). Too few of these reviews, save McCormack’s totally on-point blurb, make any mention of Cox’s use of language and form. As if Jaevan’s life and experiences can be discussed in any meaningful way without referencing his singular voice and poetry, which dominate this text.

Cox, through Jaeven, is obsessed with “shit and ephemera.” The text is punctuated by catalogs of objects and images, as in:

Stuff I just happen to come across:

Snot wads frozen into gumdrops on the sidewalk in winter, rats speared by syringes, Lego revolvers, hair-weave tumbleweed, congealed balls of motor oil, barely recognizable people lost in building cracks, doggie mud pies you find by surprise when the snow melts, ants swarming popsicle sticks in summer.

Jaevan says hustling scatters parts of him across the city (too lazy to find the actual quote). He salvages that which has been scattered, objects in decay. He’s drawn to experiences that scatter, that both liberate and damage. His words are alternately inscrutable and perilously honest. He speaks of the beauty and destruction of our own and others’ images and abstractions, all we project onto ourselves, one another and the spaces we occupy. His text is at once a love letter to chaos (esp. the lost chaos of pre-Millennial New York street life) and a revelation of trauma — in short, resilience through language.

I highly recommend.

2 thoughts on “Shuck by Daniel Allen Cox

  1. Okay, here’s one review that doesn’t bother me:

    “Cox deftly renders his non-traditional subject matter aesthetic and meaningful: porn shoots are predicated on relationships of power, bruises are beautiful, and discarded objects are emblems of cultural experience…. Shuck is a meditation on art and eroticism and commodity, and a document of sexual and psychological awakening.
    —Montreal Review of Books”

    Most, though, are more like this stupid bullshit:

    “The character Jaeven is shrewd, calculating, and utterly captivating. Like a male Holly Golightly, he manages to twist everyone around his little finger with a wink and a smile—or maybe a smirk and a pout…. Shuck is definitely a page-turner, which will surely make it a popular hit.
    — Black Heart Magazine”

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