Wednesday 26 February 2020

Review by Kathy Hoyle of "Jim Neat: The Case of a Young Man Down on His Luck" by Mary J. Oliver

Mary J. Oliver describes this work as a "long narrative poem."  Whilst the book certainly does contain sections of vivid, powerful poetry, it’s also a hybrid of hospital reports, diary entries, letters and historical photographs, making it a truly fascinating and original composition.

As a child, Mary hears a whisper of a conversation between her parents, an accusation, revealing a secret her father kept to himself and refused to speak of, ever: "You’re in another world, it’s that woman you married in Canada. And her baby. Isn’t it? Still dreaming about them, after all this time."

Mary’s father is absent, often physically, as he struggles with depression and addiction, and always emotionally. As an adult, Mary has a need to understand her father better, maybe find the half-sister she thinks still lives somewhere on the other side of the world and once and for all get answers as to why her father was never really present in her life. 

Mary remembers that Jim was close to his sister Queenie, and tracks down her daughter, Sally, sparking a journey of discovery. Through Sally, Mary finds boxes of old letters and documents, revealing links to Canada, where Jim spent his early life. She carefully collates hospital reports, letters and diary entries, to build an absolutely fascinating picture of her father. Interspersed throughout the narrative are Mary’s own thoughts, expressed through poetry and short sections of creative non-fiction, as she fills in gaps and processes her feelings. 

This sometimes humorous, yet more often heart-breaking story reveals how Mary came to understand her father and the extraordinary life he led before he met her mother. Unlike anything I’ve read before, I was pulled in by the stunning prose, the gorgeous poetry written by both Jim and Mary, and the powerful themes of loss, duplicity, addiction, love and family secrets. An exceptional book.  

About the reviewer
Kathy Hoyle is an MA graduate of Creative Writing from the University of Leicester. Her flash fiction and short stories have appeared in various online zines. She has been shortlisted for The Exeter Short Story Award, The Fish Publishing Short Memoir Prize and the Ellipsiszine Flash Fiction Collection Competition. She will write for chocolate. 

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