Book Review of Jen-Zen and the One Shoe Diaries
Published in Between the Cracks
Review by Kim McDougall
"Bradley was influenced at a young age by his free-spirited grandmother. She taught him to see the wonder in details, the color of a bird’s wing, dust floating in the air. She set him up to be a photographer, a job that uses his creativity and quirky nature to good effect. He shoots the usual commercial photos for clients, but indulges his whimsy on photographs of ripples in the lake and lone shoes forgotten by civilization. For Brad, “It wasn’t about the camera. But inspiration that left one feeling parched, going through life wandering around in the desert like a mad man thinking you’re seeing mirages about some oasis that’s just around the corner – you dream it so. And when it appears, you’re so parched you’re afraid of that first sip of water. But still you drink it, knowing maybe it’s your last and you savor the drops on your tongue, rolling them back and forth in your mouth until you’ve memorized how they feel falling down your throat.” (Pg 127)
Brad’s grandmother also set him up to fall in love with a girl who is more spirit than human at times. Jen Zen is a poet, with all the images that word connotes. She is nebulous, mysterious and sometimes infuriating. When her mother tells Brad that she’s dead, he discovers only the first mystery about the woman he loves. Jen Zen’s mother is a hard woman, who has no time for her daughter’s eccentricities. She says that her tea leaves make more sense that Jen Zen’s poetry, an attitude that prompts Jen Zen to write (pg 253):
Mother’s Sanctified Tea Leaves
You said, “Your tea leaves made more sense than my words.”
A poet sees tea leaves as shortened branches from a tree.
Sensing the whole; sensing the connection.
The existence you ignored.
Preferring to see soggy twigs; flavoring your water.
You’re right tea leaves make sense.
Keep your flavored water.
I’ll keep my flavored tree.
Where my words know the whole, making me whole.
Jen Zen’s mother chases Brad from the hospital and refuses to let him say goodbye. This lack of closure leaves him restless and unsatisfied. Months later, he is still unable to shake the shadow of Jen Zen and he begins to wonder if she haunts him. Along with her ephemeral presence, the discarded shoes turn Brad into a man on a mission. He is convinced that the piles of shoes mysteriously appearing in a small town have to be connected to Jen Zen. Is she really dead? Is she haunting him? Is he finally going crazy? His camera and his mind won’t rest until he answers these questions.
Jen Zen and the One Shoe Diaries is a far-reaching story full of lyrical beauty—a true Between the Cracks novel. It’s part mystery, part poetry. It has elements of magic realism and surrealism. Author Julie Ann Shapiro has a knack for capturing the essence of relationships and all their uncertainties. At times, Brad’s relationships (with Jen Zen, his grandmother, mother and sister) are a comfort. Other times they are a web, ready to ensnare him. In the end, he learns to see life from his own perspective, without the comfort of a camera’s lens to distort it, and he realizes that the challenge of a relationship is what makes it worthwhile.
Julie Ann Shapiro is a freelance writer, novelist, short story author and Pushcart Nominee with over seventy published stories. Julie's novel, Jen-Zen and the One Shoe Diaries is published by Synergebooks.com. Her second novel, Three Drop Pennies was recently a semifinalist in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Contest.