We sit, hunched over the words that appear on our smartphone screens, altogether unaware of the story of our lives that is going on around us, even as we focus on the minutiae of our social media "friends'" daily activities. These are the stories that draw our undivided attention, and these are the types of deftly observed, wholly engrossing narratives that make up Stephen Thomas's debut flash-fiction collection, The Jokes.
Presented in the form of a most common present-tense—as a series of moments in a social-media-like 'feed'—this collection of very short stories riffs on the form of 'the joke,' but as this might be understood by the best culture-critical comedians of our time: Andy Kaufman, Stephen Wright, Norm McDonald, Jon Stewart, Richard Pryor. And much like those stand-up artists who sanctified the joke-form, these stories deal with sometimes-intense subjects, yet with a kind of SSRI-like placidity that allows readers to cling to each word as the narratives unfold.
In drawing comparisons to Lydia Davis's creatively detached but inventively curious writing, Thomas's The Jokes is a book for thinkers; sad and funny, hopeful and determined, nostalgic and cerebral, these vignettes offer a very personal, yet amazingly relatable entry-point into big ideas that trouble our times—religion, sexuality, life and death, and ways of being in the world—all while coloured by touches of weird otherworldliness that living in someone else’s social-media feed can bring.
Fans of metafiction and philosophy, 'alt lit,’ artist and academics (particularly students of art history and theory), readers interested in experimental and somewhat cerebral fiction in the vein of Ben Marcus, Lily Hoang, or Maggie Nelson, as well as audiences interested in the uses and abuses of Internet and social media, will connect with Thomas’s particular take on worlds within worlds.
"Lydia Davis and Etgar Keret move in together and decide to adopt a son. They settle on Stephen Thomas. He has a pithy style and a funny bone. Years later, at the launch of his book The Jokes, Stephen reads a little story. It packs a novel's worth of material into two short paragraphs. At the back of the room, sipping their red wine, Lydia and Etgar beam." — Neil Smith, author of Boo
"Stephen Thomas is a writer who's smart, thoughtful, engaging, but also mischievous, like a little kid who knows he shouldn't misbehave, but does it anyway. His debut collection, The Jokes, feels to me like an absent-minded Lydia Davis trying to write deadpan comedy skits for Cartoon Network's Tim & Eric. It's anti-humour that's actually funny, sketches in which nothing is ever resolved, mini-stories that start at Point A and then seem to forget what they were even talking about. This is a book full of surprises." —Guillaume Morissette, author of New Tab