Ball, Jesse 1978–
Ball, Jesse 1978–
Home—United States and Reykjavik, Iceland.
Writer, poet, and artist. Has worked as an editor, croupier, tutor, and photographer. Also was a visiting artist at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Recipient of fellowships, including fellowships from Vassar College, Columbia University, Hawthornden Castle, Nyhil, and Oberon.
March Book (poetry), Grove Press (New York, NY), 2004.
(With Thordis Björnsdottir), Vera & Linus, Nyhil (Reykjavik, Iceland), 2006.
Og svo kom nottin (drawings), Nyhil (Reykjavik, Iceland), 2006.
Scrip M, WMJJR, 2007.
Samedi the Deafness: A Novel, Vintage Contemporaries (New York, NY), 2007.
World's Fair 7 June 1978, Vintage (New York, NY), 2008.
Contributor to books and anthologies, including Af Ljodum Nyhil, 2005; Best American Poetry, 2006; and Light of City and Sea, Street Press, 2006; contributor to periodicals, including Paris Review, Oberon, Fence, Conduit, Boston Review, Denver Quarterly, Tin House, Circumference, Agenda, New Republic, and Purple Fashion.
Jesse Ball is a writer who was widely praised for his first book-length poetry collection, titled March Book. In the book's foreword, Richard Howard noted that an "indicator of visionary gifts is indeed vision, what the poet sees and makes us see through his eyes." Howard went on to write in his foreword to the collection that in many of the author's poems, "vision is one term of a dialectic with what will not or cannot be seen: to observe something is to posit what escapes observation. This is the tension that generates most of Jesse Ball's poems, and it is a fruitful anxiety."
Ball collaborated with Thordis Björnsdottir to write Vera & Linus, a collection of short prose and drawings that focuses on the protagonists of Vera and Linus, two friends or lovers who have a wicked outlook on life, epitomized by an episode in which they go out with a knife and a bag in search of children's hands. Torturing children and animals is not all that Vera and Linus like to do; they also, at times, are extremely cruel to each other.
Woodland Pattern Web site contributor Rob Baumann commented that the authors "excel in understatement and whimsy, but their greatest achievement is in rendering the perverse and the drab in a single turn of phrase." Several reviewers noted that Vera and Linus live in a twisted world that is fairytale-like in nature. "The light touch and often archaic feel of the prose owes as much to Kafka as to classic fairy tales," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor. Referring to Vera & Linus as "Brothers Grimm, Marquis de Sade, Peter Pan and Georges Perec," Laird Hunt, writing on the Rain Taxi Web site, called the book a "strangely sexy, agreeably scary collaborative compendium."
Ball's first book of fiction, Samedi the Deafness: A Novel, has received widespread interest and praise from reviewers. "The novel itself is being described as a ‘mnemonist trapped in a sanatorium for chronic liars,’" wrote Shane Jones on the Hobart Web site. "Characters lie to one another constantly throughout, the stark pages alternate from lyrical prose, to sprawling dialog, to the actual notes the characters leave for one another in the sanatorium." Another reviewer, writing on the Here She Be—The Battlements Web site, noted: "His work has been called Kafka meets Hitchcock or Ian Fleming, and true to form he weaves a strong but twisted plot, knit tightly around the central character, James Sim."
The novel begins with a suicide on the White House lawn followed by Sim's discovery in a park of a man crumpled on the ground and stabbed in the chest. As Sim attends to the man, whose name is McHale, he dies, but not before uttering what he calls a confession, which ends with the word "Samedi." Over the next several days, Sim investigates the murder of McHale and soon confronts a man named Estrainger, who is his only lead. However, Estrainger jumps from a window to his death. Sim then begins to make connections between the two suicides and the death of McHale because all of the dead men were carrying written threats from a revolutionary calling himself "Samedi." Sim is helped in his investigation by the fact that he is mnemonist, that is, he has an amazing memory that allows him to remember huge amounts of information.
Eventually Sim is kidnapped by McHale's doppelganger and taken to a "verisylum," which is a mysterious treatment center for chronic liars. Once there, Sim seems to recognize another inmate named Grieve, who thinks she is Anastasia and later Lily Violet, and who may or may not have a look-alike of her own. The institution is guided by numerous arcane rules of discourse that are staggeringly tricky to follow. For example, if an inmate wants to speak to somebody, he or she must ring a bell, after which everyone around will freeze. Then the person must wait for fifteen seconds to collect his or her thoughts before addressing anyone. "The theory is that all these rules will help a liar create a new, stable identity out of some elaborately constructed fiction," wrote Caryn James in the New York Times Book Review.
Working within this unsteady environment, Sim tries to decipher the sanitarium's rules, each one of which turns out to be a clue "in a puzzle whose solution is ultimately immaterial to its beauty" as described by a contributor to the New Yorker. As Sim tries to figure out his place in what he identifies as some kind of mastermind scheme, he also attempts to discover the nature of the "plague of deafness" that Samedi has promised to inflict on what he considers to be an ill-mannered world.
"Like the early Thomas Pynchon … Mr. Ball creates a world nearly identical to ours, which operates on one significantly different principle: Your most paranoid fears are likely to be true," wrote Caryn James in the New York Times Book Review. James also noted that "readers who long for instant clarity will be frustrated," adding: "But anyone with a taste for the elusive will find that this smart, audacious work becomes as gripping as a good thriller, which it partially resembles." James further noted that the author wrote Samedi the Deafness in Scotland, where he lived by a cemetery. Several of the characters, including Grieve and Lily Violet, were named after people buried there.
Praise for Ball's first novel has been effusive and widespread. "Poet Ball uses the language of his trade to breathe life into his inspired thriller about memory, truth and the unsound constructs in which we house these ethereal concepts," wrote a Kirkus Reviews contributor, who also called the book "an unorthodox detective story." Referring to the novel as "highly imaginative," a contributor to Publishers Weekly commented that the author "writes scenes that read like prose poetry and cultivates a Beckett-like alienated digression rather than standard plot."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2007, review of Samedi the Deafness: A Novel.
New York Times Book Review, December 24, 2007, Caryn James, "Books of the Times; School for Liars Teaches the Dishonesty of Truth and the Truth about Dishonesty," review of Samedi the Deafness.
New Yorker, October 15, 2007, review of Samedi the Deafness, p. 99.
Publishers Weekly, October 16, 2006, review of Vera & Linus, p. 36; May 21, 2007, review of Samedi the Deafness, p. 29.
Curled Up with a Good Book,http://www.curledup.com/ (June 20, 2008), Janelle Martin, review of Samedi the Deafness.
Everyday Yeah,http://everydayyeah.com/ (June 20, 2008), "Interview with Mr. Ball."
Here She Be—The Battlements,http://hereshebe.wordpress.com/ (October 2, 2007), "Jesse Ball Heralds Saturday," review of Samedi the Deafness.
Hobart,http://www.hobartpulp.com/ (June 20, 2008), Shane Jones, "An Interview With: Jesse Ball."
Jesse Ball Home Page,http://www.jesseball.com (June 20, 2008).
Jesse Ball MySpace Web site,http://profile.myspace.com/jesseball (June 20, 2008).
KQED Arts & Culture,http://www.kqed.org/ (April 19, 2008), Deepthi Welaratna, review of Samedi the Deafness.
Pajiba,http://www.pajiba.com/ (June 20, 2008), Jennifer McKeown, "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting," review of Samedi the Deafness.
Rain Taxi,http://www.raintaxi.com/ (June 30, 2008), Laird Hunt, Vera & Linus.
Random House Web site,http://www.randomhouse.com/ (June 20, 2008), brief profile of author.
Millions,http://www.themillionsblog.com/ October 22, 2007), Garth Risk Hallberg, "The ‘P’ Is Free: A Review of Jesse Ball's Samedi the Deafness."
Woodland Pattern,http://www.woodlandpattern.org/ (June 20, 2008), Rob Baumann, review of Vera & Linus.