Stellar bathroom acoustics

In a Mist a solid debut of strange humorous tales

It’s a rare book of short stories that can incorporate early jazz musicians esoteric jazz magazines and anachronistic jazz bars and still manage not to isolate or irritate its reader with — you guessed it — jazz. Devon Code’s debut book of short stories In a Mist is such a book. It borrows its title from a melodic piano solo by Bix Beiderbecke a prohibition-era jazz musician whose disjointed nature and notorious pastimes (moonshine for those not in the know) could easily be the thematic template for many of Code’s characters. Code explores the lives of alienated men lost in the haze of their own existence who find solace in everything from stellar bathroom acoustics and existential chess games to Beiderbecke himself.

Despite the thread of isolation that runs deep throughout it’s not enough to create a strong sense of cohesion among the stories. In any collection of short stories some tales inevitably shine more than others. Unfortunately for Code his strongest entries are stylistically incongruous with the rest of the book. “Edgar and Morty” for example is a dark yarn culminating in a gruesome practical joke between estranged childhood friends. It’s clever and well-crafted but borders on the fantastical and seems incompatible with the ambiance of malaise and barroom settings Code fosters in his more subtle less memorable stories. This inconsistency becomes even more apparent as the book is comprised of a scant nine stories.

While Code’s narratives falter when his lonely protagonists begin to overlap and blur together he makes up for it with his skill in the particular. The book’s strengths lie in its details. When an abusive mailman is left by his wife he notes that he will “never taste that homemade jam again” and when looking through her drawers finds a beige maternity bra and a crimson red teddy making her absence all the more pitiable. It’s this level of diligence that makes each story more evocative and multi-faceted than their length would imply.

In a Mist is a solid debut intelligent and meticulously constructed. When melancholy and booze take a back seat to plot and character Code accomplishes a lot. When the stories waver they quickly right themselves. When Code gets cryptic he quickly explains. Horrific and humorous short but rich the book is all that jazz.