"John ran through the high desert, away from his grave," and so begins Jordan Harper's debut collection of short stories released by Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins. An opening sentence that evokes memories of the first line from Gabriel Garcia Marquez's classic novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, and one that grabs the attention of the reader instantly. Throughout the next 150 or so pages of the slim trade paperback, Harper presents fifteen diverse stories, each as impressive as the last.
The most daring and accurate comparison that can be made to Harper's stories is the 1992 cult classic, Jesus' Son, by Denis Johnson, who fifteen years later, would win The Pulitzer Prize for his 2007 novel, Tree of Smoke. Love and Other Wounds is the first product of fiction from a former music journalist and film critic who currently writes and produces on the Fox television show, Gotham: Jordan Harper.
Harper's cinematic influence is apparent in his prose, which is sparse, poignant, and does more with what is left unsaid rather than what is spelled out for the reader. The themes of his stories revolve around the concept of the endless pursuit of the American dream, and its cast is a down and out array of outlaws, tortured addicts, and the ones that get caught in the waves created by mistakingly trusting and loving all of the wrong types of people.
Much has been said about the decline of the short story in modern literature, but young writers like Jordan Harper obviously have not been listening. He makes every word count, seamlessly weaving prose and dialogue while encapsulating a far reach with a minimal amount of pages. This is the mark of great writer, one that does not say too little or too much, comfortable with settling for what each story needs in order to succeed while delivering a substantial amount of resonance.
In novels, first sentences and paragraphs generally cannot make or break the readability of the story, as the scale is much larger and development is not expected in a serious work of literature for at least a chapter or two, perhaps even more for big works of fiction. However, in a short story that only has ten pages to deliver act one, two and three, there is no time for needless backstory, which makes a good short story that much more difficult to create. A lot of fiction writers are unable to pull the reins in on their ideas in a way that the short story warrants, making the above average writer of short fiction, a unique talent in the world of fiction writers.
If there was a prize for first sentences, or if there was class that specifically focused on good first sentences, Jordan Harper would be at the forefront of that prize category and lecturing at the front of the class. Each of the fifteen first sentences in Love and Other Wounds are raw, jarring, and full of vindicated life, and there are three that standout as some of the best opening lines in short fiction, ever. Make no mistake, the content in his stories may be too graphic for some readers, but for those who appreciate an unfiltered look at the simultaneous actions that come with having just enough desperation coupled with the right amount of hope, the tales that are told are some of the most realistic and gritty pieces of short fiction in many years.
Ranging from the first to third person, and even the rarely pulled off properly second person perspective, Harper has emphatically declared his intent of keeping the short story alive in America. He is a young writer that will probably only remain under the radar for a short time. While showing that he is a talented craftsman capable of shattering expectations for debut collections, he has also accomplished something extraordinary in an age where short stories quite often resemble the generic workshop formula. Jordan Harper's Love and Other Wounds hits you like the smooth burn of a shot of whiskey, awakens your senses, and is an all around, visceral tour de force.