Review written by Kathleen Turczyn
A short story by Joy Boothe
Published in The Great Smokies Review, Issue 6, Spring 2012
Jesse tells the story of how Joy Boothe came to name her first son. It takes place over the course of 22 years, the narration moving seamlessly from a 5-year-old’s simple approach to the world to the frame of reference of a complex, intelligent 27-year-old. The story begins with her enmity towards the name Jesse, because it belongs to Boothe’s angry, emotionally damaged great uncle; it ends with a wild love of it, because of her father’s friend Jesse, an epitome of humanity. In between the two is an intense account that includes alcoholism, suicide, racism and hate, kindness, passion, murder, acceptance, friendship and love.
As with all of Boothe’s stories, Jesse grabs you by the neck and doesn’t let go. The approach is direct, without artifice. The story is told with a lack of sentiment that gives it a surprisingly hard punch. Joy doesn’t waste one word; each propels the story forward with vivid imagery. Instead of saying “It’s hot,” Joy writes, “The road is buckling in the sun, and tar is sticking to the bottoms of my feet.” You’re there with her.
Jesse is packed tightly into a perfect box, yanking you through Boothe’s world breathless, shocked, grateful, released at the end.