By Zachary Alapi
A Review of J.R. Helton’s Bad Jobs and Poor Decisions
J.R. Helton’s Bad Jobs and Poor Decisions (Liverlight 2018) accomplishes a unique feat: the weaving of social universality and cultural specificity. For Helton, that means a raw exploration of class, the most pressing and relevant issue we face, couched in the sounds and sights of 1980s Austin — the music, the drugs, the hustlers, and the grandiosity and pomp that only a state like Texas, in all its carnivalesque glory, can render both thrilling and morbid. As readers follow Jake Stewart, a burgeoning artist bent as much on self-destruction as producing great writing or visual art, as he navigates the bloated landscape of Ronald Reagan’s America. An undertone of paranoia and stasis infuses this wry and dark book with urgency and energy that even readers disconnected from the setting and era can feel.