Job of the Wasp, The, By Colin Winnette, 194 pgs.

Mar 28, 2018

In college I took a fiction writing class with a guy whose stories were variations on this: lonely boy goes to a school, is met with hostility from students and at least one faculty member, and is eventually victimized by something like a black mass run by the faculty member, for whom the hostile students act as acolytes. And there may have been a Lovecraftian god-creature in the mix. At some point later, it occurred to me that this was an archetypal narrative that young writers around the world were likely exploring.

This is the essence of Colin Winnette’s The Job of the Wasp, which is set at a boarding school for orphaned boys. I’m not implying that Winnette is being trite, but rather, regarding this particular narrative, he may be the first writer good enough to get his published.

The Job of the Wasp isn’t Lovecraftian, and doesn’t feature black masses. What it features is a possibly paranoid narrator who rarely settles for very long on a conclusion about the other characters. The adult reader suspects that many of his conclusions are tortuous adolescent crap, but you’re never sure which ones, if any, will turn out to be accurate. I recognized some of the narrator’s perceptions as ones that I had in my empathy-free junior high days.

Because of its archetype, the novel has a dream-like quality, and when Winnette has to choose between being a storyteller or a dream constructor, he chooses the latter. The narrator’s constant questioning of reality reminded me of Philip K. Dick, as does the way Winnette stops propelling his story in favor of someone talking or thinking at considerable length, the central feature (for me) of Dick’s The Transmigration of Timothy Archer.

I haven’t read much young-adult fiction. I know that its readers read mainly for story. But someone trapped in adolescence, just as Winnette’s narrator is trapped at the boarding school, might be especially enthralled with this dark dream of a book. –Jim Woster (Soft Skull Press,