Pretty Fakes Book Club: Jujitsu for Christ by Jack Butler

faked by Thursday, January 19th, 2006

Jujitsu

The time has come: time to announce the Winter/Spring 2006 Pretty Fakes Book Club Selection: Jack Butler’s Jujitsu for Christ. [UPDATE: Our discussion has begun! Click here to join in, and be sure to follow the links to further entries in our Jujitsu for Christ book club.]

Now, what do you need to know about Jack Butler before you read this book? Maybe nothing. But here’s some info anyway. Jack Butler was born in Alligator, Mississippi. You Eudora Welty fans out there probably know her short story “Powerhouse,” a story about, among other things, the power of art, of music, of performance, to create a temporary space for radical racial intersubjectivity, for transformation. That story is set in Alligator, Mississippi. Right now that sounds like a coincidence. But after you read Jujitsu for Christ, you will not be thought nutty for thinking some kind of cosmic serendipity is at work. True story of the fall of Lucifer: when Butler was born in Alligator, the archangel Lucifer, who is a Welty aficionado—who do you think was responsible for the myriad temptions faced by perennial Welty foe Carson McCullers?—turned to God and said, “A bit on the nose, don’t you think?” And then God cast him out of heaven, because he knows that some convergences are just too good to resist, and plus because he always liked The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, even if The Member of the Wedding was always a little too Judy Blume for Him. And don’t bother pointing out that Member was written while Judy Blume was still in pigtails, God is outside of time and so our notions of temporality are meaningless to Him.

Anyway: he was the son of a Baptist preacher, and a preacher himself for a short while as well as a fried pie salesman, an actuarial analyst, a college dean, head of the creative writing program at the College of Santa Fe, et cetera et cetera. But his chief calling, obviously, is as a writer, and as a writer who resists easy classification. Butler’s published oeuvre is a diverse and idiosyncratic bundle of genres and styles: two volumes of poetry, a collection of short fiction, four novels (Jujitsu for Christ; Nightshade—a science-fiction novel about vampires on Mars; the sprawling, Pultizer-nominated Living in Little Rock with Miss Little Rock; and Dreamer—a CIA thriller), and a cookbook.

I posted about Jack Butler last summer, when I had just finished reading Living in Little Rock—a delight—and I ruminated some on Jujitsu as well, particularly its tour-de-force evocation of just exactly how it feels to live in Mississippi in the summer. Jujitsu is a tough novel to describe in much detail without giving away many of its pleasures. The protagonist is, or anyway seems to be, Roger Wing, a born-again karate expert from Clinton, Mississippi, who moves to Jackson in 1959 and befriends—or is befriended by—an African American family, the Gandys. The novel chronicles their adventures and misadventures in a Mississippi where the interplay of great joy and awful violence creates a piercing feeback wail capable of driving individuals straight out of their minds with fear, lust, anger, longing, resentment, love. It manages to be hilarious, raucous, brutal, chilling, horrifying, and heartbreaking, often within the space of just a page or two.

This is a novel likely to please equally fans of Lewis Nordan or of Thomas Pynchon. Among the many subjects it ranges across in its 208 pages are comic books (one chapter title: “Captain Mississippi and Bluejay”), race, sex, the problem of history, Mississippi and Mississippi College, barbecue, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, the Klan, Ross Barnett, sex again, the terrible things done by good people, Medgar Evers, heat, heaven, the nature of fiction, James Meredith, laundromats, conservative newspaper pundits, Bible study, martial arts, fullbacks, Mars, creative writing programs, communists, civil rights, and the more-tremendous-than-expected difficulty of trying to tell one’s own story.

Now: where to get it. The trouble is, it’s out of print—this is one of the great crimes of modern publishing, and one I’d rectify if I could. But until then, it’s not too difficult to find a used copy online through the usual sources. I highly recommend the good people at ABE.com—here’s a link to their listings for the book. Or Alibris, here. Or there’s always Amazon marketplace, or, especially for you Mississippians, the local library and used bookstores in your area. If you don’t mind shelling out a few extra bucks, I highly recommend getting the hardback edition, which has a beautiful wraparound cover design.

So, here’s what we’ll do: to give everyone time to get their book and have it shipped to them, why don’t we shoot for, say, March 30th? I’ll post some thoughts and questions, and we can just have at it in the comments section.

If you think you’d be interested in participating in the club, would you be so kind as to post a comment to that effect here, just so I have some idea of who all, if anyone, is game? And look, this isn’t just for Louisianans or Mississippians—most people who are not dead inside will love this book, or at least hate it for interesting reasons.

[UPDATE: Our discussion has begun! Click here to join in!]

26 Responses to “Pretty Fakes Book Club: Jujitsu for Christ by Jack Butler”

  1. Regulator says:

    How can I resist the “fans of Pynchon” hook? I’ll do my best to get started on it, tho’ I can’t promise much haste between 3 classes and that other thing I’m working on.

  2. vendela says:

    can’t wait to get started!

    there are karate for christ church offerings all over jackson. i think they should write it out “Karate for Khrist” for added flair, but that may be taking things too Kommie.

  3. gorjus says:

    I’m totally into this. Prof., you sent me a copy of the book a while back . . . and now’s the time to pick it up!

    I just checked with Lemuria: they have have two copies, which are both $65 a piece (I don’t know if they are signed or what, but . . . one hopes). Jaxxonites can borrow my copy after I’m through for a mere two Miller Lites! In the bottle, please.

    Left a message at Choctaw. Hopefully Mr. Smith will call me back and we’ll see if they have a copy.

    Update!

    He did, and this is why I love Choctaw: he already knew eight million more things than I did about whatever I wanted, and had more stock than Morpheus’ library. Signed first edition of Jujitsu for Christ, $30. Signed first edition of Living in Little Rock with Miss Little Rock, $20. Signed first edition of Nightshade, $25. First paperback edition of Hawk Gumbo and Other Stories, $25.

    They’re setting out if somebody wants to go by and pick them up.

  4. gorjus says:

    I started it last night. GLORIOUS. I can’t believe it’s just been sitting on my shelf. The prayer, with the constant Fathers and Lords? Is just so dead on. And how can you not like a book with that first sentence? “A place called Jackson, Mississippi” indeed. And, that’s a helluva teenaged sex-scene.

  5. The Diplomat says:

    Since I’m done with my pbcs book early I’ll try to get this at choctaw. looks tremendous, and untremulous.

  6. Ah! That looks like a swell club. And yeah, gorjus, that scene caught me off-guard the first time I read it; I think it’ll become clear that it’s pretty central to some of the things the novel is doing, though.

  7. Library Guy says:

    Hmmm… Looks cool and there’s copies available at my college library. I’ll check one out when I get back from ALA Midwinter.

  8. Mr. Mooch says:

    speaking of books…JESUS. i’m surprised at infinite crisis on multiple earths or whatever it is. the story i actually like ok, coming out of that JSA classified with Power Girl. (a character who Phil Jiminez should never draw, lest his fingers be broken by me). i have gotten to the point where i just don’t want to try and read a big crossover type story. they all seem the glaze my eyes over by month 3 and the resolutions are almost always forgetable deus ex machinas. that being said, this is good. I’m finally not bored with daredevil for once, and Conan is always great.

    Over the holidays i bought one of those 500page black and white TPB’s for my trip to cali and the extended stay. it was the newly published Jonah Hex collection and it was AWESOME. i was repeatedly shocked at how well the stories aged and couldn’t get enough…that was, until that last leg of my flight where i ‘got enough’ to leave it on the fucking plane. there is a new series that’s pretty ok, but i’m thinking they need to get off self contained stories.

    damn.

    the Alex Ross ‘Justice; is also a great, and the new Sgt. Rock should be good too. it always is. OH, if you haven’t read it yet, DC puts out a book called SOLO. its a artist’s book. collection of that artist’s SOLO work on various stories. they’ve been OUTSTANDING. the last two in particular. Man I love Darwyn Cooke. hell there’s this one scene in a bar where Darkseid spits out his drink because Aquaman is telling off Ann Coulter….

    and when i’m free from all other obligations, i’m ‘reading’ Shelby Foote’s THE CIVIL WAR. i’m about 20% done with volume one, which must mean i’ve read 1000 pages (haw!). no matter. its as good as everyone raves.

  9. brad says:

    count me in…

  10. Darren says:

    So how’s this gonna work, exactly? And more importantly, which of you Mississippians is going to annotate all of the book’s allusions to local sites and persons?

  11. gorjus says:

    I think I’m going to kick in on that. Some places, like Doe’s Eat Place, are easy to spot. There’s also tons of wonderful comic references in the book that flesh it out if you know what’s going down (Leon Cool’s warcry of “HAWKA-AA-AA,” the Blackhawks’ cry; fading into the nighttime “like Lamont Cranston,” one of the Shadow’s identities).

    What say, Prof.: let’s annotate! (The battlecry of detail nerds every-where!).

  12. Oh, I love me some annotations! That would actually be a pretty great resource. I knew who Lawrence Rainey was, for instance, but it took me a while to find anything useful out about Luther Jackson (p. 26).

    Darren, I was thinking that we’d give everyone until March 30 to acquire/read the book (if everyone who’s interested finishes earlier, I guess we could start earlier, but I wanted to give people time for their media-mail speed packages to get here); then I figured to post some thoughts/comments/questions of my own, and we could go from there in the comments section. Of course, those w/ blogs of their own could crosspost at their own homespot—the more wide the internet exposure, the better, sez I. I’m open to suggestion for ways to make the practical part more practical.

  13. Regulator says:

    OK, before I go another page in this book, I want you, Prof, the leader of this club, to verify the veracity of every single detail in the book. I can’t imagine my dismay and disappointment if it turns out I read about something that didn’t happen.

  14. Actually, I was holding out in hopes that Oprah would call me on her show to shame me in public. That’s long been a fantasy of mine—but perhaps I’ve said too much.

  15. [...] ness that motivates my parents or (perhaps) Lotharius. Scary times. Have you ordered your Jujitsu for Christ yet? You need to. Alibris or ABE are more than willing to help you. Th [...]

  16. brd says:

    May I quietly listen in?

  17. Listen in, nothin’! You gotta comment! You’ve got good reservations to raise and suchforth. That said, listening in is a-ok, too.

  18. [...] obviously, our thinking was what you might call blinkered. We were like Jimmy McMorris in Jujitsu for Christ (have you ordered your copy?), who takes the pulpit in an all-white Mississippi church during th [...]

  19. [...] my actual abilities that he makes me feel a little ashamed. Tidbits: Don’t forget the Jujitsu for Christ book club at the end of this month! Beg borrow or steal a copy, ASAP, and get to reading! Unless [...]

  20. [...] ore-578”> And so we begin the inaugural virtual meeting of the PrettyFakes book club, first announced back in January, on Jack Butler’s underrated 1986 tour-de-force, Jujitsu for Christ. The structu [...]

  21. [...] ous posts discussed the Summer Passage in Jujitsu, the start of the PF book club featuring Jujitsu for Christ, and a kickoff of the discussion. This entry was posted [...]

  22. [...] age in Jujitsu for Christ –Prof. Fury compares Jack Butler to a cross between “Thomas Pynchon and Lewis Nordan” –Prof. Fury looks at Marcus’ quest –Gorjus talks about Leo [...]

  23. [...] reference, which Kenan was generous enough to confirm for me. And of course anyone who followed our roundtable on Jujitsu for Christ, or read my interview with Jack Butler in Mississippi Quarterly, knows that this issue is a source [...]

  24. John says:

    Very interesting that its out of print. Is their an ebook?

  25. Prof Fury says:

    John, the University Press of Mississippi is republishing Jujitsu next year, and I believe there will be an eBook available as well.