Friday, May 11, 2018

Meet Jex Blackwell, a gritty teenage post punk heroine with a genius for medicine by P. William Grimm



Jex Blackwell Saves the World (Pelekinesis, May) by P. William Grimm was both refreshing and a complete surprise. Grimm an American writer and fillmaker, has written novels and short story collections--The Seventh and Counselor, Valencia Street and Sick Sense of Hubris.
He 's published in lit blogs, like Eclectica Magazine and HTML Giant. His influences are Kurt Vonnegut, Joan Didion, Charles Bukowski, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett. So he likes the truth, outrageous or otherwise, and a mystery with soul and style.

Grimm's final inspiration is  Encyclopedia Brown, a series of kid's books about a boy genius. Grimm thinks of Jex Blackwell as a "Dadaesque homage" to that series. So this is kind of an adult YA mystery, written like an underground graphic novel with a heroine (not unlike orphaned Anne of Green Gables or headstrong Jo in Little Women). Jex is aware of her potential and completely invents herself at aged 16. She wants to do good in the world, while she can't resist the siren song of unfettered adventure (Tom Sawyer anyone? Substitute the black top roads of L.A. for the River).

Jex's turf is underground culture, especially the music scene of  Los Angeles. Here's a description, "Tonight the best band in the world is a Macedonian anarchist punk collective, banging away in a sweaty, sultry basement somewhere in the middle of Echo Park. There is no stage and so the band is eye level with the crowd, which consists of maybe two dozen people. All four band members are consumed with their music,the guitarist particularly animated, dancing up and down with abandon. The female singer twists and turns with the music, wrapping the microphone cord around her body like a cocoon, yelping loudly in Macedonian over the chug of the rhythm section, bass and drums."

And where does this scene take us? To Jess diagnosing a sick musician who faints and helping him  to recover. As her sidekick tells someone "Jex is a total bad ass. She can figure out what's wrong with anyone. And I mean anyone. I have seen the craziest shit and Jex is just cool as balls and totally figures it out-like out of nowhere. She's punk Sherlock Holmes for sure, but for, like, medicine."

In her gritty environment, Jex navigates with zen cool and just when you may think this is  predictable urban territory--drugs, squats-- the story shifts to a baby in trouble and how Jex quickly figures out the problem and aid. It's not just the story that's unexpected but the girl. Jex is  a person of complex contradictions even for a teen. She's sophisticated but pure, completely practical with superb timing, yet impulsive and artsy. Jex cares about no one and everyone. She sees through people and wants to save everyone. And you believe she might--if she grows up.

Jex Blackwell Saves the World is an inspiring book. While teens may like it because she inhabits the "outsider" world of a kid without parents or school, they may admire her real ambitions and how she works to change her world. Parents may sneak it out of their room for Grimm's gift at spinning outre atmospheres and truthful emotion--all too reminescent of youth.

When in fiction has there been a girl this independent--this heroic? Jex does what she wills and takes responsibility--while trying to suss out the big picture. If she saves herself from all the wayward temptations of a footloose punk, she could do anything--even rescue and heal our planet.

Recommended for the fun of it.

S.W.