Contest #195 shortlist ⭐️

The Epiphanies of Jubu Djanx: A Speculative Book Review

Submitted into Contest #195 in response to: Write a story that includes the phrase “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”... view prompt

48 comments

Contemporary Speculative Fiction

The Epiphanies of Jubu Djanx is Michael Pizanti’s first novel. It recounts the life of the eponymous character who considers himself a perennial wanderer, a drop-out scholar, an aspiring, but luckless, singer, a dubious saint. Djanx’s adventures are frequent and often triggered by aberrant sensorial impressions: by something seen that feels like it has already been seen. By words heard that have a double, and usually troubling, meaning. Adding flavor to the novel's 27 chapters are a collection of colorful mental health experts, most of whom attribute Djanx's cognitive anomalies to mental illness. Our protagonist, who adopts his pseudonym during a voluntary stay on a prison yard in Represa, California, maintains the reason his mind is executing these perceptual tricks is that they are all proof of what the iconoclast philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche calls the Eternal Return.

Djanx’s wandering of university lecture halls in the late 80s and mid-90s, his ambulation of psychiatric hospital corridors in the first decade and a half of the 2000s, of a maximum-security penitentiary from 2015 to 2018, of Cuban, California, and New York jails, and of three continents in blind pursuit of meaning, fail to reveal the reasons for his unanswerable existence. It is only after 53 years, some of which have felt like living, others like bareboned survival, that his trajectory leads toward the worldly location, the murky milieu, where the novel’s climax transpires. 

Djanx’s vertiginous sense of dejà-vu leads him to feel both anomie and anhedonia. Despite his alliterative pseudonym, an appellation that he himself chooses and which is not forced upon him by a prison or jail gang, he feels nameless, or worse yet, incurably anonymous, and this senseless anonymity multiplies his inability to find daily activities pleasurable. Djanx wants, or perhaps feels he deserves, a respite from the limbo he resides in. This escape comes in the form of a geographic displacement and an encounter with a mysterious woman.   

Djanx hasn’t seen her in a lifetime. The girl with the Jim Morrison tattoo. Before the paths of the wanderer and the girl fuse, Djanx is haunted by premonitions, by the feeling that every pull on a cigarette is an inhalation closer to departure from his fleshy shell, and that the end only leads, in a fashion that is both agonizing and joyous, to the beginning.

Our protagonist is born at the end of the tumultuous 60s. By the end of the novel, he’s long had a fascination with the Doors, with what he calls their “proto-gothic grind music” and, most importantly, with the band’s front man. In his middle age, Djanx is struck by the fact that in his early pubescence, when he sat in his bedroom and repeatedly listened to the band’s Greatest Hits album, he unconsciously styled his hair like that of the lead singer. And in an oversized picture-portrait of him and his two siblings, a portrait his mother possesses and prizes, the wanderer sees himself at the age of 14, shirtless, in three-quarters profile and mirroring the pose Morrison strikes on the cover of the same album whose grooves were well worn by the needle of the teenage wanderer’s record player.

The girl with the Jim Morrison tattoo is not really a girl, but an adult woman. Djanx refers to her as a girl out of colloquial habit. The romantic partner he has before he meets the tattooed girl is in her early 60s, and despite her mature years, she still possesses girlish mannerisms.

Youth, like beauty, is often in the eyes of the beholder, and toward the end of the novel, at a New York mental health hospital ward he voluntarily commits himself to, Djanx swears he recognizes the eyes of the girl with the tattoo, the woman he has yet to meet, on a complete stranger. The eyes are set in the face of a hospital staff member wearing a Covid mask. The eyes are beautiful, with serpentine-colored irises. They perspicaciously pierce his own pupils and at once unnerve as well as comfort Djanx.

The girl with the Jim Morrison tattoo resides in the picturesque city of Mendoza, Argentina, a city that lies at the foot of the Andes Mountains and is shadowed by their tallest peak, the Aconcagua. Although he is of Argentine extraction, and his parents are proud Mendocinos, emigrated to the United States in pursuit of shamefully unadmitted dreams, and in search of upwardly mobile opportunities only the land of the star-spangled banner could provide, Djanx has not walked the tree-canopied avenues and precipitation gutter-lined streets of Mendoza in nearly three decades. Mendoza is Argentina’s wine country, whose vineyards vie with those of France and California in the production of the viticultural libation. Jim Morrison was known to evoke, and often compared himself to, Dionysus, Greek god of revelry and wine. To those uninitiated into the mystery of Eternal Return, these related facts are nothing but a chance occurrence, to Djanx, they are proof of all human destiny, and the fate that awaits him like a ravenous wild animal.

With his return to his parents’ natal city, Djanx revisits his future, a future that has already been his past, and wary anticipation is the phrase that best describes this pending, confounding and unavoidable visitation. For many Nietzschean psychotherapists, as for Djanx, life occurs in recurrent loops, and as I have previously mentioned, throughout his later years, Djanx is haunted by the repetition of motifs, of objects, of synchronicities and phenomena that are considered coincidental to outside observers, but ineluctable to the person who perceives the repetitive elements. In his early adolescence, about the time he is listening to the Doors’ Greatest Hits album, our protagonist’s bike is stolen by a long-haired thief brandishing a pocket knife. Although he boasts of besting blade-wielding opponents to his high school classmates, the wanderer is, at that point in his existence a liar and, even worse, a coward. Late in the novel, Djanx notices his mother keeps only inoffensive, flimsy, and small knives in her kitchen, as if she, too, is subconsciously aware that her son must ultimately once again face an assailant who will substantiate the irrational reason why she chooses not to use sharp cutting implements much larger than those used to pare fruit in her kitchen. 

Although he is not an Argentine national, it is not without a modicum of nationalist pride and a humbling sense of irony that Djanx, late in his 53rd year, takes once again to reading the fiction of Jorge Luis Borges. While a story hypothetically written by Borges could possibly argue the contrary, Rome wasn’t built in a day. It also took centuries to decay, and its vestiges still survive in the form of American Empire, an empire that Djanx believes is on the wane. He travels south, to escape the miseries he feels as a result of this lamentable fact. 

After once again carefully perusing “The South,” a disturbing tale where Borges postulates that the incomprehensible mysteries of a former mental patient’s life are resolved in a confrontation with a ruffian who challenges him to a duel at knife point, Jubu Djanx feels the nagging sense of dejà-vu that dogs him in his later years. Djanx escapes to the south, to the land where he was conceived, to a city where he suspects a girl with a portrait tattoo depicting a man known as the Lizard King likewise is also possibly curious to find meaning. 

After he finally meets her, the temporary penumbra that darkens Djanx’s existence ceases, but the permanent darkness, the one that lasts an instantaneous eternity, soon thereafter ensues. During the novel’s climax, Djanx feels fear, because fear always accompanies an exposure to the unknown. He also feels joy, the joy that comes with every wanderer’s awakening to the fact that each step they have ever taken has felt improvised, but has actually been as predetermined as the awakening which accompanies the canny sounds of birdsong at dawn.

April 24, 2023 18:54

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

48 comments

Zack Powell
07:41 Apr 28, 2023

Damn, that's quite clever, structuring a story in the form of a book review. Wish I'd thought of that. Might have to give it a shot sometime. On that note, I think the story formatting benefitted this piece greatly. There's a great deal of factual-type information in here - what some other writers might call "Telling" instead of "Showing" - but it works because, well, that's what a book review does. It's right there in the name. It's not "show us what happens in 27 chapters with as much sight/smell/sound etc. as possible," so much as it is ...

Reply

Mike Panasitti
20:40 Apr 28, 2023

Zack, thanks as always for your feedback. I hadn't seen a story in the form of a fictional book review on Reedsy, either, but the format is only quasi-original (and admittedly meta) given that I'd been reading Borges' "Ficciones" previous to writing "The Epiphanies...," and that I imitate his style in a narrative where the main character also reads the Argentine author who some consider the father of magical realism. I'd love to see the literary heights you could take a similar story to. I'll be on the look out for it. Take care, happy w...

Reply

Zack Powell
15:49 May 05, 2023

You don't know how happy I am for you, Mike, to finally see one of your stories get the recognition it deserves. LONG overdue, I'd say. This was a great one to rack up a shortlist for. Congratulations from the bottom of my heart, and keep up the good work.

Reply

Mike Panasitti
19:29 May 05, 2023

Thanks so much, Zack. Although I don't think this particular story was as polished as it could have been, I think the concept got me shortlisted. It did feel like a long time coming. Feedback from outstanding writers like you have kept me going here on Reedsy, and the judges' acknowledgement of "Epiphanies..." gives me additional motivation to keep tapping away. Thanks again for the kind words.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
15:12 May 05, 2023

MIKE GREAT NEWS ON THE SHORTLIST ... and profoundly overdue! Let me read your story closely and get back with you - but I am over the moon that you've won. Huzzah Huzzah

Reply

15:21 May 05, 2023

Djanx Unchanged, indeed. What a perfect format for your kaleidoscopic brilliance. An outline for a David Foster Wallace novel. I am dazzled by your cleverness and the tightness of your prose. Wow, Mike. So pleased -- ! Soon you'll be teaching those Creative Writing MFA classes.

Reply

Mike Panasitti
19:37 May 05, 2023

Oh Deidra, thanks for the praises and the ongoing belief in me as a writer. It feels so long ago that you and Russell hosted me on ReadLotsWriteLots. That experience really cemented my will to continue composing. And as far as teaching MFA classes...I'll quote one of this week's prompts: "Maybe in another life." A much more likely scenario is ending up in Mendoza, Argentina in search of a girl with a Jim Morrison tattoo. Take care, oh Lady of Letters.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
02:13 May 03, 2023

The voice this is written in is brilliant, that slightly detached narrator can really go wild with observations. Its fun to read how these sentences flow and which wildly inventive expressions will be in the next one. "temporary penumbra that darkens Djanx’s existence ceases" and.. "Djanx’s vertiginous sense of dejà-vu leads him to feel both anomie and anhedonia. Despite his alliterative pseudonym, an appellation that he himself chooses and which is not forced upon him by ..." alliterative pseudonym?! this is great. Being a bit of a wander...

Reply

Mike Panasitti
16:48 May 03, 2023

Scott, I was delighted you found yourself relating to this fictive account, if only for the reason that it made me feel less alone in the world. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Reply

16:10 May 05, 2023

V happy your innovative prose genius in this story made the short list this week. Congrats Mike.

Reply

Mike Panasitti
19:59 May 05, 2023

Thank you, Scott. You've essentially been commenting on my stories since the start of my writing journey, so the acknowledgement is much appreciated.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Graham Kinross
13:33 May 01, 2023

“the feeling that every pull on a cigarette is an inhalation closer to departure from his fleshy shell,” they’re not known for their health benefits. Jorge Luis Borges is the Salvador Dali of the written word. The Garden of Forking Paths is my favourite of his stories. One of your more abstract stories, Mike. Now you need to write the book that goes with it.

Reply

Mike Panasitti
13:59 May 01, 2023

Your cigarette statement made me laugh. You're right of course. I'll have to adjust the sentence in a future edit. I consider any fan of Borges a comrade in arms. I need to live the rest of my life before I write the book, otherwise I may never know the conclusion ; )

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Mary Bendickson
00:32 May 01, 2023

The masters have already commented on your piece of work and I can't compete with perfection. All is aptly already said. You had me believing this is actually a review of the book you are writing. Congrats on the shortlist!

Reply

Mike Panasitti
01:24 May 01, 2023

I'm flattered that you were almost convinced by this "book review's" spurious authenticity. You (and other readers) credulity may have been further tested if I'd chosen "creative non-fiction" as a genre tag, but for the sake of not completely dissolving the line between reality and make-believe I decided against it. Thanks for reading, Mary.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Laurel Hanson
15:35 Apr 29, 2023

An intelligent story with a super clever structural premise. It allows you to get a lot of dense information in, with awesome phrases such as, "Djanx is haunted by premonitions, by the feeling that every pull on a cigarette is an inhalation closer to departure from his fleshy shell, and that the end only leads, in a fashion that is both agonizing and joyous, to the beginning." that are not only beautiful, but work to support that underlying philosophical theme. Just love how you took the platitude of the prompt and put it on its ear with a...

Reply

Mike Panasitti
00:06 Apr 30, 2023

Laurel, thank you for the kind words about a piece that I believe could have used much additional polish. You've brought my attention to phrases that will definitely find their way into a future version, if fate so has it. Thanks again for reading and commenting.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Delbert Griffith
14:05 Apr 29, 2023

Wow wow wow. What a brilliant idea (and very meta) to take on this prompt by having Michael Pizanti write a book review. I was immediately struck by a couple of things here: 1) This reminded me, a little, of Saul Bellow's "Humbolt's Gift." A tale of the diverging paths of two writers. 2) I was immediately struck by the theme of deja vu; specifically, by the recurring nagging deja vu that the MC in the book felt. Joseph Heller, in his novel, "Catch-22," goes to great lengths (for him) to expound on deja vu (already seen), presque vu (almost...

Reply

Mike Panasitti
00:02 Apr 30, 2023

Thanks for reading and the kind words, Delbert. I've yet, shamefully enough, to read "Catch-22." Considering that Heller expounds on the themes you've mentioned, I'll order it. Thanks also for the reference to the Bellow story. Hopefully I can find an audio version of it online. Take care. And cheers right back.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Michał Przywara
20:41 Apr 28, 2023

The obvious thing that stands out here is the structure, the whole premise: a story in a book review. I've seen some creative structures before, but I haven't seen this one yet, and I think it works really well. It adds a meta level to the story, which focuses heavily on déjà vu, because what is reading a story if not, in some way, re-experiencing an event? The review itself isn't even the story (in the book), but snippets of it, a summary. And what is a summary if not a different take on the same thing - a kind of iteration, another loo...

Reply

Mike Panasitti
20:56 Apr 28, 2023

Thanks so much for the feedback, Tribal Scribe Przywara. I like how you've drawn my attention to the prompt and its relevance to the bigger picture. I also like the house analogy or metaphor. If this story ever finds a more developed form, I will try to incorporate it. Nothing is built in a day, but if time (and therefore space and the universe), as Nietzsche and Borges declare, is not linear but circular, Rome is repeatedly built and dismantled to infinity. So, in a way, if this temporal scheme is accurate, it's built in less than a da...

Reply

Michał Przywara
22:03 May 05, 2023

Woo! Congrats on the shortlist! I'm glad this got recognized :) Indeed, I would have been disappointed if it didn't. The format here is really cool as an idea and not at all easy to pull off. More people ought to read it :)

Reply

Mike Panasitti
22:42 May 05, 2023

Thanks for the congrats, Michal. I hope the format inspires other people to try it. I'm sure it can be done with more panache than this sketch. Take care.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Jack Kimball
20:28 Apr 26, 2023

Hey Mike, Yesterday I truly 'liked' this story, but was frankly intimidated by the depth, feeling a 'no country for old men' syndrome. I mean, 'Djanx’s vertiginous sense of dejà-vu leads him to feel both anomie and anhedonia'. Really? And then you commented on my 'Shipwreck'. So here goes. I read 'The Epiphanies...' (three times now), with a thesaurus, with google open, carefully, as it deserves. I then skimmed some of your other stories and realized 'Epiphanies...' is unique, but still with the vocabulary reach, and depth of concept, of ...

Reply

Mike Panasitti
14:52 Apr 27, 2023

Jack, you've really opened the books (web pages) on me! The article on the role Vegas casinos have on legitimating gambling as a morally acceptable activity was written by a 20-something and his girlfriend (the latter who went on to publish a prize-winning ethnography on gambling machine addiction, Addiction By Design which I highly recommend if you ever want to write a story about the subject). I'm quite a different existential (and political) animal than I was in my Berkeley years, I take Nietzsche much more seriously and believe his wri...

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Helen A Smith
20:14 Apr 26, 2023

Hi Mike The way you describe Pizanti’s novel is absorbing in itself and makes me want to read it. It sounds fascinating. The constant feeling of deja vu is surely something that can be felt in the sense that certain things seem to repeat themselves over and over to the extent that (for me) it feels as if patterns exist - as if they’ve always been there. Or to put it more simply, the feeling of having met someone before (as revealed in the eyes) to the extent of discerning types of behaviour as familiar. Almost as if you know what is likely...

Reply

Mike Panasitti
15:19 Apr 27, 2023

Helen, yes the feeling of having "already seen" is what I wanted to investigate in this story. Nietzsche maintains that it stems from the fact that the afterlife is not heaven, hell, or reincarnation, but the very life we have already lived (and are living). This would mean that when we "die" our consciousness of it is largely erased and only survives in brief flashes, those perceptual phenomena the French have developed the term "deja-vu" for. Thanks for reading and commenting on this somewhat difficult piece. I plan to edit it and mak...

Reply

Helen A Smith
16:22 May 05, 2023

Well done Mike 👍

Reply

Mike Panasitti
20:01 May 05, 2023

Many thanks, Helen.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Kevin Marlow
00:34 Apr 26, 2023

I enjoyed how you captured the nagging maelstrom of the schizo-affective mind and its need to assert order to the randomness of existence. Your repetition of imagery cements the central theme of a lost mind trying to claim ownership over the fragments of a life fully lived, yet still in limbo in middle age.

Reply

Mike Panasitti
10:19 Apr 26, 2023

Kevin, thanks for the succinct, illuminating feedback. "Fully lived, yet still in limbo," accurately describes the meta-main character in this piece. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Andrew Fruchtman
01:40 May 06, 2023

Very clever take on the prompt. Well done and congrats on the recognition.

Reply

Show 0 replies
RJ Holmquist
21:24 May 05, 2023

What a great way to play with story form. As I read, I got the impression that the narrator was perhaps speaking about himself in third person, as if Jubu himself had chosen to do a book review about his life, which gave it a for me a compellingly manic feel despite the academic tone and diction. Congrats on the shortlist, it is well deserved.

Reply

Mike Panasitti
22:37 May 05, 2023

Thanks RJ. Your intuition is correct. Most of my stories have an autobiographical hue to them. I considered combining creative non-fiction and speculative genre tags for "Epiphanies...," but it seemed oxymoronic, or paradoxical at best. But then I recalled the first chapter of Maxine Hong Kingston's "Woman Warrior," where Kingston successfully bridges the divide between memoir and fantasy by writing about the imagined persecution and actual suicide of an aunt who has been stigmatized for the dishonor she brought to the family. I like ...

Reply

RJ Holmquist
23:22 May 05, 2023

Haha "Speculative Non-fiction." Maybe that will be your next innovation? There has got to be a way to make that work. Maybe that's all history really is?

Reply

Mike Panasitti
23:57 May 05, 2023

Definitely experimental ground to explore. History...always partial and interpretive. I think, an academic historian would find it difficult, however, to get tenure writing "speculative history" - leave that task to authors of historical fiction.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Chris Miller
18:14 May 05, 2023

Congratulations on the shortlist, Mike. Really interesting story. I will follow you and check out a few more. I love the phrase "Eternal return". I've just finished reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being where Kundera briefly explores it as a possible remedy to the titular problem. Jubu should read it.

Reply

Mike Panasitti
20:03 May 05, 2023

Thank you, Chris. I will return the favors and make sure Jubu revisits Kundera's most popular work, especially if it serves to assuage his malaise.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Éan Bird
15:02 May 29, 2023

This was a clever, delightful read. Rich in tone and spirit!

Reply

Mike Panasitti
21:46 May 29, 2023

Perhaps this piece has a "heavy spirit?" I'm nevertheless delighted you didn't find it spiritless. Thank you for reading.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Delbert Griffith
10:16 May 10, 2023

Congrats on the shortlist, my friend. Well deserved, IMO. Fantastic story.

Reply

Mike Panasitti
15:11 May 10, 2023

Thank you, Delbert.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Philip Ebuluofor
16:01 May 08, 2023

Yeah, I think it is a review at work here but people like you are too intelligent that you might be initiating something new here like I have seen a girl do once. Congrats.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Geir Westrul
19:47 May 06, 2023

I love the conceit of the "speculative book review". I'm reminded of Thomas Carlyle's "Sartor Resartus", the detached narrator, writing about a story you wish you'd be able to read. Have you read Jens Bjørneboe? Obscure Norwegian writer that I did my high-school thesis on (yes, in Norway we had to write theses in high-school). Your story reminded me of his trilogy: 1) Moment of Freedom, 2) Powderhouse, and 3) The Silence. In the first novel in the trilogy, Bjørneboe uses the conceit of being a "court reporter" (Servant of Justice) to ...

Reply

Mike Panasitti
19:59 May 06, 2023

"Conceit" is the appropriate word for a story about an unwritten book primarily comprised of factual material. I'm still trying to figure out its structural contortions . Does Bjørneboe's trilogy need to be read in any particular order? I'm particularly interested in Powderhouse. Thanks for the reference. I look forward to reading more of your work.

Reply

Geir Westrul
02:24 May 07, 2023

I read them in order, starting with Moment of Freedom, but on reflection, I don't think it matters, and Powderhouse was very good on its own.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Unknown User
15:20 Jun 16, 2023

<removed by user>

Reply

Mike Panasitti
02:50 Jun 17, 2023

Thanks, Joseph. Perhaps I will submit an edited version to a future contest.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.