My rating: 4 of 5 stars
3.5 instead of 4.
One morning in Brisbane, Travis wakes up to discover that the city has been covered in carnivorous strawberry jam. With his flatmate Tim, barista-turned-investigative-journalist Angela and game designer Donald Sunderland, Travis spends the majority of the story trying to figure out how to not get eaten as well as maybe trying to figure out what happened in the first place. The plot of Jam shares this one main similarity with Croshaw’s other book Mogworld and his latest game Poacher: an everyday character trying to deal with the surreal circumstances he is thrown into. As a result, Jam asks the question “How much does the average person know about surviving a major traumatic event?” The answer is “Not much.”
While I can’t really say that Travis is a likeable character, I like what Croshaw has done with him. For the most part, Travis comes across simple-minded but the reader won’t be able to really tell if it’s because of the shock of the jampocalypse or if he’s just a little, um, different. His concern for Mary, the Goliath birdeater spider he’s adopted, is sweet in an odd, partly creepy way. Travis is just enough of a blank that the reader can project their own interpretation onto him.
The mixed tone of the book is the reason I gave it 3.5 stars. Mogworld was pretty comedic, with the range going from sarcasm to broad physical comedy. Jam has the same sarcastic sensibility but the humor is pretty dark. Example: at one point Travis becomes fixated on bringing an apple back to the group so Tim can carry out his grandiose ideas about farming and sustaining their own food supply. (Despite that they are in a city with nearly no arable soil or that none of them have any gardening knowledge or that the jam consumes all organic substances.) When the jam eats the fruit before Travis can bring it back, he gets upset because he won’t be able to help Tim with his plan. But the loss is squirm-inducing when the reader realizes how few supplies the group has. While this weird tone is challenging in an interesting way, there is some way it doesn’t completely come together for me. I’m still trying to figure out what it is, but I’m not completely satisfied by the switch between comedic and cringe-worthy. But, Jam is a good second novel, with improved writing and interesting characters. The rise and fall of the Briar Centre Mall Hipster Empire was worth the price of admission alone.