June/July/Aug 2007

Heather Havrilesky on Jack Pendarvis's Your Body Is Changing

Heather Havrilesky


Jack Pendarvis’s second collection of stories, Your Body Is Changing, is populated by a preposterous assortment of oddballs and losers. Whether he’s describing an embittered failure with a superiority complex who rambles about the hamburger restaurant he wants to start, a self-proclaimed prophet traveling along an Alabama freeway with his nine goats, or an aging professor who grasps clumsily for hip lingo to impress the young folks, Pendarvis delights in exposing a range of chafingly self-involved blowhards and dithering freaks.

At times, this kaleidoscope of weirdos is a bit too arbitrary and cute to pull the reader into their foibles—whether it’s Puddin’, a mathematician-turned–park ranger who claims to have dated Prince, or Three, an aspiring private eye who’s depressed because his two bloodhounds fell out of an airplane that day. But when Pendarvis focuses on elitist city folk, that’s when the fun begins.

In the title story, Henry, an Alabama teen, sees That ’70s Show actress Laura Prepon on TV, telling Conan O’Brien about her experiences shooting a movie in Henry’s state. “One person . . . had tried to fashion a welcome sign for her as a gesture of goodwill, but this Alabama person did not go about his task properly. The sign was crudely constructed, which gave Laura Prepon a window into Alabama’s soul, as she explained to Conan O’Brien. Alabama people did not know how to make neat, orderly signs, unlike the rest of the country.” For Pendarvis, the “rest of the country” is best captured in selfproclaimed urban intellectuals like Mandy, who boldly pronounces, within minutes of meeting someone, “Oh, I will call you on your shit! It’s what I do. I notice things and then I call people on their shit.” Mandy explains that she loves provocative topics (“I hear that something is politically incorrect and I’m like, ‘I’m there!’”), remains willfully ignorant of pop culture (“People become intimidated when they realize that my opinions are so uninformed when it comes to television”), and offers questionable explanations about her “art” (“[It] can be the way I sit, the way I talk, the way I comb my hair . . . The only reason I would do art is to destroy it from the inside”). With his over-the-top dialogue, Pendarvis nails this habit of braying boastfully about what you don’t know and won’t do and can’t abide, a common rallying cry of the urban hipster. It’s hard to miss his point that, unlike the humble “Alabama person” with his sloppy sign, the elitist “thinker” has no real message or sentiment to impart beyond a clumsy, contrarian nihilism.

While some of Pendarvis’s stories are a little aimless, it’s hard not to applaud his ability to make us laugh out loud as he exalts the common man at the expense of the vainglorious jackasses around him. More than anything, Your Body Is Changing feels like an act of vengeance by an author determined to put urban pretentiousness in a headlock.

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