‘Night Guard’ by Jack Vening

A few years ago I took a seminar by the brilliant multimedia artist Season Butler on ‘Reimagining Dystopias’, where I was introduced to Viktor Shklovsky’s idea of defamiliarisation, and his (or was it first Novalis’s?) axiom: “Make the strange familiar and the familiar strange.” It really rocked my world, which is a little odd because I was a full-grown adult calling myself a writer by that point, and the feedback I got from friends and respected peers was: Wait, you really hadn’t heard of that before? Wow don’t tell people that.

In ‘Night Guard’ a caretaker provides a taxonomy of wealthy children’s peculiarities and patterns, and paints a picture of the slippery, anarchic game which is childminding: Julie was squinting at my phone, from which she was streaming videos of civil unrest at tremendous volume. I gathered she was terrified of being injured in a terrorist attack. Occasionally she screamed. The waiters looked at her like she was a crow I’d taught to speak by feeding it meat out of my hand.Jack Vening is one of the funniest people on the famously crowded Internet, and I waited too long to dive into his fiction, which is so, so good at delivering that defamiliarisation thing. Once he has a collection I’ll keep it within arm’s reach, especially while temping, or when the shrieking children from the school near my house flood the street and hold me hostage in the late afternoon.

Published by The Nervous Breakdown, August 2019, and available to read here

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