Jack the Bastard and Other Stories
By Micah Nathan With Illustrations By Phil Noto, Michael Allred, Russ Nicholson, and Tradd Moore
Review by Luke Herr
Jack the Bastard and Other Stories was a tonal shift in what I’ve been reviewing over the past few months – mostly comics. To be honest it has been some time since I’ve read any short stories that weren’t for school in one way or another though there is some strange and I’ll confess, grudge based reason for that. Anthologies have always stood mentally as these tomes filled with only three stories that support the purchase of the book, be it for class or simply because the other stories, this literary filler, doesn’t hold up to the caliber of work that the book’s greater stories might raise. So when I approached Jack the Bastard and Other Stories by Micah Nathan, it was with trepidation and without any idea of what I might expect and to open, this book has restored to me the idea that an anthology can be an enjoyable and strong read.
While the book seemed to heavily tout the illustrations by comic artists like Michael Allred and Phil Noto amongst others, Micah Nathan’s descriptive power and use of prose is infinitely stronger and more vibrant from the treacherous journey that is the title story to the smaller moments between people who have fallen out of love in One Act. Nathan is able to paint vivid descriptions with such an energy that I think he negates any need for illustrations.
The stories themselves lack a connected theme but all stand strong. One Act is the most Mad Men-esqe story that I’ve read building this mental connection to the series which I feel might have been intentional. Meanwhile As The Old Greeks Would Say feels like some lost early era Woody Allen piece dealing with a missing daughter and the cousin sent to find her. I bring up these pop culture comparisons because these stories are strong enough to deserve it. They are references without being referential, they invoke a strong enough spirit to stand on their own.
While Five Tempered Notes and Simulacrum may be the weakest stories for me personally, dealing with metaphors of the death of self, in different ways, but they are still strong pieces – after reading so many short stories with stock characters, having these well developed characters with lives and voices means that they are still stronger than the average short story.
Mr Todd and The Gibson Girl paints this picture of a small apocalyptic world shaken up by an earthquake traveling through a city in ruin while The Love Life Of Tigers deals with another journey into this strange world that is so weird that it circles back to reality while creating a sense of surrealness that I mentally painted with a Wes Anderson color scheme.
Quarry stands as one of the darker stories set in the backwoods rural areas that would be sure to scare more than a few readers with a killer on the road and a lack of people to turn to. Meanwhile The Mensch is like so paranoid Hollywood horror story told through the eyes of a writer forced to work on Holocaust Rom-Com with a crew of egotists.
All of these themes and ideas, the referentialness, the death of self, the surreal loneliness and wander and the deeper darkness all meet up again in Jack The Bastard, a 100 plus epic of revenge and darkness that left me wounded at the end. Jack stands as this modern epic in a world that we forget about in the deserts of the south and the wars that are waged there.
All together the collection works as a set of stories without a connected theme between them all and I found the book to be more or less flawless. I look forward to pursuing Micah Nathan’s work in the future and I highly recommend Jack The Bastard and Other Stories.