Jen Calleja is a wonderful writer. I have been reading her reviews and personal nonfiction for a long time. I love her slightly surreal, both befuddling and clarifying collection, I’m Afraid That’s All We’ve Got Time For, published by Prototype in 2020. My favourite story in the collection is ‘Literary Quartet’, because it’s a story I often reference, something I’m not sure I can say for most short stories. In it a narrator is up for a prestigious award along with other writers, the story takes a turn for the strange, and frankly stressful, as the nominees are required to make a case for why they ought to win. Calleja lampoons the ridiculous theatre of prize-givings and, sadly oftentimes, how meaningless literature and art becomes when dressed up in ceremony.
Published in I’m Afraid That’s All We’ve Got Time For, Prototype Books 2020
From the beginning, this story made me uncomfortable (in a good way). It seemed to be demanding a great deal of introspection and analysis of gender and power from the reader. After this initial discomfort wore off, I was drawn in by its comic melancholy, brutal bluntness, and searingly absurd images, which still linger in my mind at odd moments.They practically ruined my day because I couldn’t stop thinking about how utterly inadequate they both were to me. I went over to them, hung my bag off the shoulder of the young one and put my wide-brimmed hat on his head, and lay my briefcase on the lap of the old limp thing, popped it open, took out my newspaper and started reading it, silently defying either of them to look at me.
First published in Calleja’s short story collection I’m Afraid That’s All We’ve Got Time For (Prototype, 2020). Reproduced in The London Magazine, April 2020, and available at The London Magazine