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"Mr. Chowder is incapable of writing a bad sentence." – The New Yorker

Jadis, a novel

  • Harper & Row, hardcover
  • Penguin, paperback (Contemporary American Fiction series)
  • West Germany: Zsolnay Verlag, hardcover; Grummann Verlag, paperback
  • Editors’ Choice Book: The New York Times and Washington Post

JadisRead an excerpt from Jadis

Reviews

The New York Times: “A breezy, often hilarious novel… Ken Chowder’s charm as a storyteller and his unfailing ability to create realized events are substantial assets.”

The New Yorker: “A very good novel… a story about the past’s persistence.”

Washington Post: “Chowder has the extraordinary ability to find beauty in the everyday mess of love relationships. He turns simple pleasures into comic cantatas.”

Kirkus Reviews: “Exuberant riches of style — reckless leaps in tone, optimistic humor, sheen and generosity… this unusual novel emerges as a canny blend of gravity and sweetness, as it very touchingly addresses the mistakes of love and the impossibility of any final answers.” (Starred review)

Margaret Atwood: “Ken Chowder’s JADIS is a delightfully eccentric, exquisitely-written tragicomedy of modern manners.”

Portland Oregonian: “Brilliant use of language… good writing. Chowder writes for serious readers, but reading him seriously forces them to laugh at the subtle humor he so masterfully conveys.”

Booklist: “A wonderfully poetic novel.”

Jadis - a novel by Ken Chowder - German CoverPhiladelphia Inquirer: “In the hands of a lesser and grimmer novelist, JADIS would demonstrate that the real world dominates… Chowder, however, allows fantasy, virtue, and childhood to triumph; that people never recover from childhood is one of the consolations of being human.”

Los Angeles Times: “The triad of characters is complex, funny, and moving in Ken Chowder’s third novel.”

Boston Globe: “Chowder tells the story beautifully, with a sweet sensibility and shimmering sensual imagery, entertaining us well while touching us deeply.”

Milwaukee Journal: “Ken Chowder. Remember the name. JADIS. Remember the book. Remember them both because one belongs to an author whose work should be on every bookshelf and the other is the novel that could put him there.Chowder transcends the given and levitates somewhere above, an example of the truly gifted.”

Excerpt

From Chapter One of Jadis, a novel by Ken Chowder

It was late. Before bed Egg went around the house turning on lights. He always did this; Jadis asked him to. She believed in ghosts. Her ghosts weren’t human or even visible; they were presences of difficult and homeless energy. Jadis had painted the doors and windowsills a striking and brilliant blue because it was said that ghosts could not cross blue to enter a house. Just her luck, there was already a ghost inside and now the miserable thing was unable to get out. According to Jadis, the ghost lived in the basement; ghosts couldn’t stand electric light. She allowed the being its sanctuary in the benevolent darkness below, and in return the ghost performed only the most minor stunts and displays. Occasionally a chest of drawers would move a few inches, always to the right. A left running shoe would develop an aversion to is mate, and for three days in a row would tiptoe to a corner of the unoccupied guest room. Ice-cube trays appeared on the kitchen counter in the morning, brimming with water but for three empty squares. Once the knitted gray tie Egg wore to work was found in a perfect Windsor, hanging on the basement knob.

Egg didn’t believe in ghosts, but he knew how they were born. His father, Max, had died five years before. Suddenly, without warning. The heart. Apparently it was a simple death. But a part of Egg was unwilling to accept this simple change; he couldn’t take Max away. Max’s remains sat quietly in two tin urns on a shelf in the basement, next to an elaborate model of the Cutty Sark that Egg had assembled at age ten. Meanwhile, Egg often found his father quite alive, repeating the gentle absurdities of daily life: the old man flipped through magazines behind the shut toilet door, or played the cello almost out of earshot in the tiny den. So this was how ghosts began — when someone couldn’t understand that a place no longer contained some familiar occupant, and so peopled nocturnal imaginings with the form of the dear dead.

Ghosts were the children of the living, according to Egg, and he accorded Jadis’s personal ghost the same politeness he gave to Jadis herself. If he didn’t believe in ghosts, he believed in the redeeming power of ritual. It was his pleasure to go on these nightly tours, illuminating every room; usually he did it for Jadis, but on this night he did it for Jadis’s ghost, and for the ghost of Jadis.

The observance of this small ritual gave him comfort, so he indulged in a few more. He flossed scrupulously; he brushed till he foamed like a breaking wave at the mouth. Distastefully he applied jojoba oil to his scalp — a memorial to Jadis. She’d bought him the bottle, and was constantly disappointed that he avoided the subject, not to mention the actual oil. He turned down both sides of the bed with a gentleness bordering on delicacy. He hopped in, seated his little-used reading glasses on his wide nose, and for a few minutes read the sad story of the 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers in their later ruin. Before long the book toppled onto his chest, his head sank back into the pillow, his mouth dropped open, and he began to snore and dream. Despite everything he dreamed happily — about a curiously solid rainbow, a delicious dinner of poached trout and tomato juice, and an endless series of feather-light kisses, which tickled, from a princess with fins.

The ghost trudged wearily up the stairs, wearing Egg’s gray tie and left running shoe, and peeked in at the sleeping man. The ghost plucked the reading glasses off of Egg’s nose, replaced them in their case, and then — this may have been more angel than ghost — soundless snapped off the bedside light.