Jobjumper is the first book from Hit List columnist, the Whiskey Rebel (a.k.a Phil Irwin). It’s essentially a memoir of Irwin’s working life and all the crazy jobs he’s had, from selling “home learning centers” (encyclopedias) door-to-door to working for a loan shark (more or less) to working in a Radio Shack. If you know Irwin from his column in Hit List, you probably know him as a pretty good storyteller, and Jobjumper is best when Irwin is telling a story of, say, the time he was supposed to chaperone two adolescents on a trip to a theme park in San Francisco and, instead of taking them to the theme park, Irwin and his buddy gave the kids ten bucks to play pinball at a dive in the Tenderloin, then Irwin and his buddy went off to get drunk in strip clubs. During those sections, I felt like I was actually hanging out with Irwin, drinking beer, listening to him talk. He’d get excited, tell every detail, pause to comment on half of them, look for the funny parts, and crack me up. It was very engaging. And little aspects of the book made it cooler – like the way he rarely writes the word “beer” without tacking “ice-cold” in front of it. Or like the way he’ll tell a story about everything getting fucked up because of something he did, then comment about how he just can’t figure out what went wrong – and mean it. There’s also something about the way Irwin describes all of the fucked up jobs and bumbling employers he’s had that reminds me of all of the fucked up jobs and bumbling employers I’ve had, and it allows me to see some humor and pain in it all. And though it seems through most of the book that Irwin is just never going to recognize that big truth dangling in front of his nose – and I think I can say this without giving anything away – he does realize it at the end, and the book is satisfying for that reason.
My biggest criticism of the book, though, is that it could use some serious editing. I’m not talking about grammatical errors. That doesn’t bother me. But the book seemed pretty raw in the sense that some passages were great and some were difficult to get through. I could tell which nights Irwin was in a good mood when he typed and which nights he was in a bad mood, and that fucked with the flow of the book. Also, though Irwin is very entertaining when he’s actually telling a story about something that happened at one particular time, he’s also prone to summarizing large periods of his life by talking about things that would happen and how he would respond. That’s never as interesting. I want to hear the details. I don’t care if the same thing happened every day for six months, but pick one day and tell me about it. That way, I can feel like I’m there, watching things that are going on. I think with a little more work, Irwin and his editor could’ve trimmed out the summaries, expanded on the stories, and continued the flow of the book. He’s also got a tendency to talk about a job and introduce the reader to – and describe – every single person working there, then most of those people don’t show up in the book ever again. So, by page seventy or so, he’s literally introduced probably sixty or seventy characters, and only a dozen of them are important to the story. So those are my complaints. Other than that, it’s an admirable effort and a pretty cool first book for both Irwin and Steel Cage Books. I recommend checking out The Whiskey Rebel’s column, and if you like it, check out this book. –Sean Carswell (Steel Cage Books, PO Box 29247, Philadelphia, PA19125)