Who’s to say whether author J.B. Whitehouse had some of literature’s iconic “identity seekers” like Holden Caulfield or George Webber in mind when he constructed Quentin Dettweiler in his riveting debut novella Jersig. But the mere fact that they come to mind either says something about me as a reader or Whitehouse as a writer.
On one level, Jersig is a scintillating cautionary tale about the dangers of associating with strangers — or rather the life-expansive opportunities of doing so.
But it’s so much more than that. The narrator, Quentin, or “Q,” is a young man of curiosity but limited stimulus — and worldly knowledge — on how to escape his mundane life as a healthcare consultant and seek something better. The one fine quality he possesses, which could be his ticket out of Dodge, is his ability to write. Ditto, incidentally, for Mr. Whitehouse.
Q says he is 26 going on 46. “Like most young men we all wanted to be successful, to be draped and showered in the wealth of the world we had come to know through the screens of our cellular phones.”
Dettweiler is hardly the first young man to “Go West” seeking the American Dream, abandoning his Ohio roots and heading to California with no more direction than his map.
That is, until his chance brush in a coffee shop with Jersig, immaculately dressed and fit, projecting an air of wealth, success and all-around perfection. Q later observes, “When Jersig spoke it seemed people listened, really listened. The way he presented himself, the cool, powerful aura he had with the slow distinct tone … made them not question a word he spoke.”
When they randomly meet up again outside a swanky restaurant, Q in a strange way feels Jersig knows him so well. Jersig takes Q under his wing to educate him on the ways of the world and how to succeed in it. From all appearances, Jersig has that within him to share.
So Q tags along with Jersig and his exquisite and difficult girlfriend, Cadence. As he magnificently describes it, “It felt as though in an age long misplaced, our paths had been intertwined. Places indescribable from memory yet faintly incoherent in soul, it’s as if we shared a blur of warm careless summer days with forgotten ghosts populating a semblance of kind righteousness that one might feel in invincible adolescence. … Except that never occurred.”
Through the lessons and leisure, one is suspicious of Jersig’s business dealings and apparent success. Clues on those matters come to light.
There are demons in all three of their lives — bouts with drugs, alcohol and other abusive substances that they appear to have overcome. Yet their pasts help bridge the obvious social and financial gaps between them. The author himself had a similar past, and, like his protagonist, is now able channel his experience into marvelous writing.
It would be giving too much away to say more about where the story takes us, but more than fitting to applaud the way it takes us there. The plot is tight, the self-reflection and introspection compelling, and the writing, well, as noted earlier, Whitehouse has a gift, one that readers should relish.
Hopefully, there are more captivating stories inside this wonderful talent.