Trouble in Mind. Titus Novella Series. ISBN 0-9582586-1-9. Auckland: Titus Books, 2005. [ii] + 102 pp.
- The House of the Nightmare
- The Seance
- The Tower Room
- Diary Entries
- Job’s Comforter
Experiences not included in the book
Ten Days that Shook the World
- Dead Eyes
All Save You
Trouble in Mind
Haunting can become a routine like any other.
Each afternoon, as Laura returned from school, it would begin.
First, a gradually growing sense of depression and unease as she approached the house. Then, stopping at that corner of the drive where the figure at the window showed (sometimes she would succeed in walking past it without looking up, but the eyes still bored into her skull; usually it was easier just to face them). Then through the front door, greetings to Gran at her table in the kitchen, and through to her room for homework. Usually the room would be disarranged. Little sculptures made out of pillows, bedclothes tangled together — sometimes more macabre touches: smeared on the window by sooty fingers …
LAURA YOU ARE MINE TO KILL
COME ON DOWN THE WATERS FINE
This double-story from the author of Nights with Giordano Bruno is an intense voyage into the life of a young woman and a serious reflection upon the art of novel-writing.
Cover photograph: 'Winter snowstorm' by Michael Dean
"Trouble in Mind is an intense voyage into the life of a young woman and a serious reflection upon the art of novel-writing.
Jack Ross's experimentation continues to surprise and amaze. This one quickens the pace and has two stories bubbling away, shimmering with intellect and eroticism.
Trouble in Mind is a troubling experience for a reader. It is at once a twenty-first century novel and not a novel at all, but an eyeball, subject and object, made up of a million cells.
Jack's writing defies you. At times one can only accept that a human mind is capable of making such correspondences. At other times the unexpected nature of his constructions impel us into new mind-spaces."
- Joe Groeningen
PO Box 102
RRP: $NZ 19.95 (+ $2 postage & packing)
[Landfall 212 (2006):
'The Capital of Nowhere,' ed. Richard Reeve]
Reviews & Comments:
- Jenny Lawn. "Not the Montanas." School News – Massey University website (1/6/05).
Award-winning novelist Mike Johnson describes Jack’s style as “not the Montanas,” (referring to the NZ book awards, which tend to go to conservative, safe writing). “I like to experiment with form and surprise my readers. A book should be like a Vindaloo curry, wicked and spicy.”
- "In the beginning was the launch …" Titus Books Online (28/7/05).
In the autumn of 2005, coinciding, as it happens, with the Auckland Writers’ Festival, Titus launched three novellas: Coma by William Direen, Trouble in Mind by Jack Ross, and Curriculum Vitae by Olwyn Stewart. If the organisers of the festival were not frightened, they should have been, because this launch presented a new and dynamic force in the New Zealand publishing industry –– an actual alternative press ... Mike Johnson, who launched the books, praised Direen’s dark eloquence, Ross’s bold and stylish experiments with form, and Stewart’s down-to-earth wit.
- Joe Groeningen. Titus Books Online (22/9/05).
There are writers who try to make you feel more intelligent, while claiming the high ground (and the salary of their cunning). Dr Ross’s writing defies you. At times one can only accept that a human mind is capable of making such correspondences. At other times the unexpected nature of his constructions impels us into new mind-spaces.
- Katherine Liddy, “Something Strange.” Landfall 212 (November 2006).
Underneath the eye of the sun, in the murky territory between Life and Death, the story unfolds like a papyrus emitting the spores of an ancient curse ... Experimental, assured, contemporary and local, Trouble in Mind is a healthy new leaf in the old stick of New Zealand lit.
[AUP New Poets 3: Janice Freegard, Katherine Liddy, Reihana Robinson (2008)]
From a Group Review
[reprinted by permission]
Katherine Liddy, “Something Strange.” Landfall 212 (November 2006).
- Coma, William Direen (Titus Books) 127 pp. $19.95
- Trouble in Mind, Jack Ross (Titus Books) 104 pp. $19.95
- Curriculum Vitae, Olwyn Stewart (Titus Books) 102 pp. $19.95
Discord between this world and another, a creeping awareness of the afterlife and a mounting trouble in mind—these are prominent features of the Titus Books novella series, three slim volumes published in 2005. Each novella expresses the other-worldly in its own way. All of them glide to crucial points of contact with The Beyond, encounters or journeys that prod the stories along and create a sense of eerie possibility. Read together, the books make a highly interesting group of modern ghost stories.
With Trouble in Mind, there is perhaps a surplus of pertinent detail. No matter how bizarre or seemingly unrelated the disparate puzzle pieces, the reader is lured into hoping that they fit. ‘Have you ever thought that if you took a single story and read it carefully enough, you could deduce all the laws of human behaviour from it?’ You are asked by the narrator, a deranged scholar who delights in dismembering texts, scribbling in margins, constructing decoupage of body parts and obsessively systematising everything from sitcoms to sex acts.
Deranged as the consciousness may seem, it actually represents an orthodox post-modern sensibility. Once you realise this, the periodic musings seem less mysterious and anxiety producing because you realise they are completely dispensable.
Yet the main narrative, the one the kooky professor is supposedly narrating, is a different story. Opening with panache, the novella reveals a teenager's Inanna-like descent into a horrifying Underworld.
Ten feet further, another layer of logs. She took off her top, and, sweating heavily in the stuffy air of the tunnel, kept descending.
Ten feet further, more logs. She removed her jeans. The trapdoor opened and she went on. By now it was very hot.
Underneath the eye of the sun, in the murky territory between Life and Death, the story unfolds like a papyrus emitting the spores of an ancient curse.
Horror, at least in film, usually plays on the tension between sex and death. Unlike the healthy human animals around her, the horroine tends to embody sexual innocence and morbid hypersensitivity. Ross, never one to shy away from female teenage sexuality if he can help it, creates an effectively anxious atmosphere by stressing the naivety, depression and sixth sense of his sixteen-year-old protagonist, Laura.
Truly frightening in many places, Trouble in Mind deserves to be read if only as a good example of the genre in its baroque, post-modern stage. Movie horror conventions are adhered to but the writing itself is also highly polished, lending the story the bright gleam of designer kitsch:
The driver had a skull-face. Chalk-white, crabbed and cold — a mask to frighten little children with.
From the back seat of the Daimler, all Laura could see was a pair of bony ears protruding from between the red scarf and black top hat. But every time he turned his cheekbones came into view. Sharp as knives. As if he were slashing a way forward with them. He hadn't spoken once since the journey began.
Every time I read this description it gives me an extraordinary sense of satisfaction. It manages the elegance significance of Joyce, evoking everything from Charon, the Stygian taxi driver, to Dracula, to campy Italian vampire flicks. Such subtle demonstration of literary awareness is typical of Ross's style, and one of the great pleasures in reading his books.
Experimental, assured, contemporary and local, Trouble in Mind is a healthy new leaf in the old stick of New Zealand lit. Even though I personally have an aversion to self-conscious post modernism, I can see that it would make an ideal text in a university course on that sort of thing. Keep an eye out for more by Ross if you are a fan of post modernism, New Zealand literature or high-brow porn. Lovers of literary puzzles may be attracted to the erotic Nights with Giordano Bruno (Danger Books), while I preferred Monkey Miss Her Now, a collection of short stories 'de l'amour'.
Vanguards, points of novel triangles, do not appear on the NZ scene all that often. Even though flawed, the Titus novella series presses ahead of the pack with something new, smart and strange. Kiwi literature just got a whole lot more interesting.