JD Scott’s new collection Moonflower, Nightshade, All the Hours of the Day is a surreal and poetically-written foray into the familiar and the weird. It’s the kind of book that can make the quotidian seem fantastical and can evoke the banality of living in a world that might look wondrous on paper. This is a book that abounds with unlikely miracles and strange damnations; even so, Scott’s fiction is also about such resonant themes as ritual, grief, and the unknown.
That sense of finding a place where the mythical can co-exist with the everyday comes up early in the collection’s first story, “The Teenager.” Scott describes one character as “the Polaris of truants”—and in doing so, they associate a folkloric element with an irreverent role. It’s the first they’ll do this in their collection, but it’s far from the last. The collection takes on a delirious, dreamlike quality—magnified by the presence of rituals in many of these stories—which adds to the sense that anything could happen, including forays into the miraculous.
At the center of “Chinchilla” is a possibly-immortal chinchilla named Angelito, one whose lifespan extends far longer than what is typically associated with his species. Angelito was the childhood pet of the narrator’s lover; eventually, Angelito dies as a result of ingesting an abundance of cocaine. The lovers part ways, and the narrator adopts a new chinchilla, named Diablito. The closing paragraph of the story begins with a gloriously surreal image of this new chinchilla outliving the human race:
“Hundreds of years from now, when alien invaders come to our deserted planet, Diablito will still be here, sleeping on his hammock. All humans will have uploaded their energy, their lifespans, into his little chinchilla body.”
Elsewhere in the collection, Scott addresses religious imagery more directly. “Cross” is narrated by a modern-day Christ in training to be crucified. One part satire of gym culture, one part transgressive riff on Christianity, and one part exploration of pain and dedication, the story navigates the difficult terrain of being both metafictional and visceral. “Because I am a very do-it-yourself person, I begin to crucify myself,” the narrator writes. “This ultimately doesn’t matter in the end, because Roman soldiers always show up to a crucifixion to finish the job.”
“Cross” isn’t the only work in the collection dealing with death—or, for that matter, resurrection. The first sentence of “Where Parallel Lines Come to Touch” is immediately gripping: “After the funeral my brother came back.” The story “The Hand That Sews” begins with its narrator musing on a hidden room in the house where she lives with her family—including her son. The narrative fragments, looping back and forth throughout her memories and offering some fragmented syntax, right up until a fragment of text message conversation places her son in a harrowing situation.
This story, like many in the book, deals with the experience of parents surviving their children. This is perhaps most overt in the story titled “Their Sons Return Home to Die,” but it’s a motif that runs throughout the collection. Combining that with the sense of ritual elsewhere in the book, as in the story “Night Things”—sample sentence: “The Witch scraped the table with the flat of the blade, blood dripping into a mason jar.“—creates a sense of the way humans bargain with the world around us, trying to impose a kind of structure on its worst and most mysterious elements.
The longest work in this collection is a novella titled “After the End Came the Mall, and the Mall Was Everything.” It’s set in an unspecified time when the surface of the planet is covered by one massive mall—though Scott’s scenario here also has elements of the mythic and the fantastical, including a deep consideration of the nature of quests. Which, in and of itself, also lines up neatly with the book’s focus on rites and rituals.
Certain passages in this novella resonate in a distinctly dystopian way. “My parents came from the part of that mall that was called Japan—when it was called that,” writes Joshua, the story’s narrator. But later, in a conversation, he observes his world’s tendency to veer into other genres. “I’m seeing more and more weird creatures and magical things,” he says. “They keep asking me to go on quests.” Also? There are menacing creatures called cauldron dingoes.
Trying to pin “After the End Came the Mall, and the Mall Was Everything” down to one genre or style is impossible; instead, much of its power comes from its ability to move through liminal spaces between genres (and between expectations of genres). The same could be said for Scott’s collection as a whole. Neatly summarizing it isn’t easy, but experiencing it is rewarding indeed.
Moonflower, Nightshade, All the Hours of the Day is available from Lake Forest College Press.