In the Introduction to his collection of short stories, A Scholar of Pain, Grant Jerkins counters a writer friend’s argument that collections are “vanity projects” saying “I’ve always found short stories to be the best way to get to know a writer and a litmus of that author’s mettle. If I am found lacking, let it be documented. But you will know me.” Short stories expose the author multiple times throughout the collection whereas glimpses into the writer are only fleeting in a novel. Even stories written on assignment or for an anthology, these stories, if good, combine with the author’s other works begin to fill in the canvas – if you tilt your head so and squint your eyes a bit, yeah, you begin to see something.
“NSFW”, flash fiction originally appearing in Shotgun Honey, opens Grant Jerkins’ A Scholar of Pain. It is the unheard tale of love from one office worker to another. He tells her of how he snuck into her apartment one day while she was at work and he had called in sick. “I had a bowel movement in your commode. And I did something to your toothbrush so that you will have molecules of me inside of you, too.” I chose these line as to show that Jerkins’ stories are not so much about characters out of societal norms, rather their emotions are intensified, these are stories of actions to dark to dream of.
Grant Jerkins’ world in A Scholar of Pain is filled with the strange and the disturbing: cough-syrup addicts, a man who peers under women’s skirts, a relationship with a life-size doll, hoarders, religious fanatics, and others. These are the people who periodically appear as articles in your social media feed and you shake your head. Jerkins gives a voice to the forgotten and misunderstood.
The book cannot be read in a staccato-like rhythm, instead the stories force the reader to put down the book and pause not so much for understanding – you know what you’ve just read, there’s no going back now – but for you to bring yourself back to your own familiarity and the inevitability of your life.
It could be said that some of the stories in Grant Jerkins’ A Scholar of Pain might be too much for some readers. Given the popularity of serial killer books, films and TV shows, I find this a bit odd. Maybe it’s because Jerkins’ characters are so close to our lives making them too real for many, acting on one bad desire then sends you down a Florida Man rabbit hole of no escape. There are stories in A Scholar of Pain that are more easily consumed like “EBT”, “Regular, Normal People” and “Wichita Lineman”. The good news is that they are only a gateway drug to the more disturbing stories like “Eula Shook” and “The Starry Night”.
Grant Jerkins’ A Scholar of Pain is a beautifully written collection of stories about passion and darkness. You will remember this book.