Review by Nathan Moore: Bodies Made of Smoke, a novella by J. Bradley

Sometimes I wonder about all the TV I’ve missed. Whether from sleep, chemically-induced miasma, or just lack of electricity, I have missed a lot of TV. I missed the Highlander TV series that ran during the nineties. Reading J. Bradley’s Bodies Made of Smoke makes me wish I had seen some of it. The book’s five chapters are built on references to the show and it’s not coy about telling us this.

Sometimes a book is cinematic, built less on overt discussion of ideas than visual representation of action. In Bodies Made of Smoke, each chapter, composed of smaller sections, reveals action through flashbacks and discrete moments of revelation. The narrative itself is a body cut into filmic parts. I want to talk about a “main character,” Sarah, who shows up on the book’s first page being watched by her father on a videotape (videotape!—It’s the nineties). Should I mention her father’s name is Mario? It’s the nineties. Sarah is erotically obsessed with the Highlander show. Although this obsession actually belongs to the Greek god Hephaestus. I think he’s into the show because he’s spent the last few thousand years incorporating himself in human bodies. A few of the chapter sections even present themselves as a series of “scenes.”

Sometimes, when no one gets the mail, I traipse out across the asphalt driveway in my pajama pants at one in the morning, bare feet in chilly puddles. I can’t help but look across the street at the former fields turned patriotic mini-estates. “What’s in those basements?” “What about that light in that attic crawlspace?” This book feeds my creepy eagerness to know. In a sense, as the book reminds us, bodies are haunted by notions of a soul, houses are haunted by bodies. One of the Fates, Atropos, the one who cuts the life-thread, has been chasing Hephaestus through the bodies of poor humans.

Sometimes this book makes me think about Mason jars. Hephaestus is more than interested in Mason Jars. He keeps his human form in a giant Mason jar. Here are Greek gods inspiring the technology of Mason jars. These are games. Mario fills Mason jars with the air Sarah lives in. John Mason invents Mason jars, puppet of a god. Mario catches air.

Sometimes, when we were kids, we would make soap bubbles from tiny plastic hoops. My uncle, the smoker, would sometimes grab one and blow a Marlboro bubble. When the soap popped a tiny ghost of smoke would hang in the air above the table. A little soul, its fragile body gone. This book approaches this notion but with wounds and blood and some decapitation. Personal confession: sometimes I’m a little squeamish.

Sometimes, and who hasn’t? I think of skin as a kind of clothing. Not in that freaky Silence of the Lambs kind of way but in the old-timey we’re all puppets-of-some-supernatural-force kind of way. Our corporeal being as Halloween costume of the spirit world. Bodies Made of Smoke plays on these kinds of ideas. These ideas play with us as we’ve inherited them. Think incense. Think bong clouds. Think the ancient mystery of human motives explained.

Bodies Made of Smoke, by J. Bradley. Portland, Oregon: Housefire Books, forthcoming.

You can find some of Nathan Moore‘s poems at Pudding Magazine, Everyday Genius, Menacing Hedge, and Fleeting Magazine. He posts paintings and other things here.

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