October 13, 2020: “Golden Gate Jumper Survivors Society” by Ross Wilcox

Welcome to Tuesday, Story366!

This is one of those days when I don’t really have a lead-in for my post, as it’s been an uneventful day. Yesterday I talked about high school fashion—which is what all of you really tune in for—and on other days I chat about what my family’s up to, on politics, sports, and general news items. Today, I’m not seeing any of that. Could I mention the election is three weeks from today, go into that? Sure. Could I lament the Cubs some more, or get on the Bears bandwagon? Yep. Or could I regale you with more stories of my cats? Absolutely. Instead, I think I’ll make today an I don’t have anything to write about so I’ll write about having nothing to write about day and call it at that. Still seventy-eight more posts to go this year. I’ll allow it.

Today I read from Ross Wilcox‘s debut collection, Golden Gate Jumper Survivors Society, out this past August from 7.13 Books. This is my first exposure to Wilcox’s work, which is great, especially since I really love this book. Let’s discuss, share in some of the awesomeness.

The stories I read in Golden Gate Jumper Survivors Society all have some pretty high-end concepts. The title story, for example, is about what it sounds like it’s about. It’s a group of people who have all tried to kill themselves on the famous bridge, but survived, and now hang out. Really, it’s more of a 12-step program than any kind of fun club, but Victor, its president and our protagonist, brings these people together, their commonality unlikely and grim.

The society experiences change when a pretty young woman named Bonnie enters the group. Victor is immediately suspicious of Bonnie’s jumper credentials, as the point of her jump—which everyone can name down to the light pole number—is not over the water, but instead over rocky land. I.e., Bonnie could not have survived her fall. Victor, who knows the bridge better than anyone on the planet, knows she’s a fraud but doesn’t say anything—everyone likes Bonnie and he doesn’t want to come off like a jerk.

Soon, Bonnie’s popularity leads her to run for president, which Victor thinks is a joke. Still, she is elected unanimously, and Victor can’t believe it. He’s put his life into this society and this fake jumper is suddenly in charge. Bonnie ran on the promise of getting Greg Seward into the group, a famous jump survivor whose story was on the news, who has jilted the society to this point. When Bonnie delivers Greg to her first meeting, her promised realized, people love her more.

Victor is even more disgusted when the group starts to do yoga as one of their activities. Victor had them doing things like diving-board jumps at the local pool, sating their urges to jump from something higher. Yoga does nothing, he claims, except line the pockets of Greg, who happens to own the yoga studio. He throws such a fit at a meeting, he’s asked to leave, which he does, but not before swearing to start another Golden Gate Bridge jumper survivor society, one even better than the original. No one follows him out of the meeting.

Victor becomes lost, the society his only connection to the world that’s positive. He still patrols the bridge—that’s one of the society’s main activities—but fails to save a young man from leaping to his doom. Victor hits rock bottom, which is saying a lot, as he’s already attempted suicide, (and notes that he failed at that as well).

Without Victor, however, the society hits hard times. Greg turns out to be a fake, joining the society merely to get people into his studio. Bonnie is outed as a non-jumper, but more seriously, she develops breast cancer. Victor, at this point, wants to reach out—he’s a good soul at heart, wanting to save people—but I won’t reveal what happens when these two rivals meet again, under much different circumstances. That’s for you to discover.

I really like what Wilcox does with this concept, taking this odd group of people, with this horrible thing in common, and makes something really innovative, touching, and surprising out of it. The mini-political struggle is at the heart of the story for a while, but it becomes about these people before too long, people who are, remember, damaged, people who have come together to be together, not to fight over activities or elections.

“Broken Vessel” is about Sally, a woman who lives with her widowed mother, Esther, in a modest apartment. Sally is distressed when Esther starts acting like her dead husband, Gary, is still alive and present. She reserves a place for him at the table—complete with place setting and meal—sits in the back seat of the car behind Sally so Gary can sit in the front, and lays his clothes out for him every morning. Sally is especially distressed when Esther starts talking to Gary and Gary starts talking back. That’s when she consults her brother, Jim, about a home for Esther, which neither of them can afford. Sally, in the real twist, starts robbing banks, dressing as Gary, becoming known as Paul Bunyan for the flannel shirts and fake beard. The money goes for an expensive home for Esther, but it’s only a matter of time before Sally gets caught, right? Again, Wilcox is able to move beyond the concept here and deliver a story about his character, about what happens after Sally’s luck has run out.

A communal narrator story, “Year of Our Lawn” follows the residents of a particular little town, one that has always prided itself on its landscaping and lawn care. One year, a couple goes the extra mile and unveils an elaborate lawn diorama, a scene in which local residents—in the guise of animals—dine at a local restaurant. One couple is represented by bears, but dressed in clothes that make them identifiable. Another couple are foxes. Etcetera. Not to be outdone, another family makes another diorama on their lawn, a different scene with different residents and different animals, and so on and so on. Pretty soon, when everyone’s lawn is covered in these scenes—their taxidermist has gotten uncannily rich—they find new ways to one-up each other, changing the scenes, getting even more creative. It’s a fun commentary on how creativity can turn into envy, and again, Wilcox delivers something beyond the concept, gives us a message.

I enjoyed Ross Wilcox’s Golden Gate Jumper Survivors Society as much as any new release I read this year. Wilcox comes up with some tremendously interesting premises but then truly delivers real characters to inhabit his worlds. These characters that become even more interesting than what’s happening around them, delving into their problems in unique ways. This is a spectacular debut and I can’t wait to gobble up the rest of these stories, then be ready for more.

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