Jeannie wonders why people throw casserole at grief like they think the casserole will smother it. Watches plate after plate of casserole pass by her untouched. The overcooked noodles and the greyish mince and peas. The unpalatable sympathy of strangers.
Grief, like many other emotions, has been a widely-explored topic of fiction and non-fiction. Death, on the other hand, has been primarily missing from modern literature. Death has become a taboo topic, we speak around it, but don’t speak to it. In many stories it can feel like it is simultaneously at the centre of the narrative, but also on the outskirts. It is both the reason or drive for the narrative, but also the thing we do not see. In Something to be Tiptoed Around, Emma Marie Jones confronts death and grief with an unflinching stare. The narrative is a confronting and human exploration of grief, loss, femininity and death.
Jones creates for us – and herself– the protagonist Jeannie. ‘Let’s say Jeannie is like me, but not enough like me that, if you met her in the supermarket or down the pub, you’d think she was me. As in physically she’s similar, but not the same.’ We follow Jeannie as she grapples with the death of her sister, the autobiographical narrative that Jones has given to Jeannie to share some of the burden of grief. ‘Jeannie’s sister Harriet died when Jeannie was seventeen. She drowned in a backyard pool. This is also what happened to my sister, and I am lending that story to Jeannie for a while, mostly so that I don’t have to keep carrying it by myself.’ Jeannie gives Jones a reprieve from her story and holds space so she may explore and unravel the emotions she carries with her.
Harriet’s death and the way it shapes Jeannie’s life is always at the centre of the novella. It is ever-present, at times overbearing and at others, distanced, but never relegated to the outskirts of the text. ‘She wonders whether grief becomes a landmark in your life that you refer to like a stone on the horizon, or if it is something that diminishes, something to be tiptoed around until it goes away.’ This grief infuses the novella as it is written into the narrative’s core, ‘Sadness is a process that is written into Jeannie’s DNA, into everyone’s DNA, like laughing after cumming or salivating before throwing up.’ The story is real and human, with Jones bringing gut-wrenching authenticity to each line.
Something to be Tiptoed Around weaves theory, criticism, mythology, biography and narrative together to create a genre-defying novella. It is a patchwork of words, sentences and paragraphs that bind together to create a mosaic of ideas. Each chapter seamlessly links and builds from the previous one, exploring femininity and sisterhood, grief and time, death and loss.
From publishing house Grattan Street Press, this novella is the first of their Grattan Street Shorts series, a series that champions work that “does not fit neatly into conventional forms”.
Publisher: Grattan Street Press
Extent: 104 pages