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Book Review: You Only Bend Once with a Spoonful of Mercury by Jennifer Robin

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Book Review: You Only Bend Once with a Spoonful of Mercury by Jennifer Robin

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Joseph Edwin Haeger reviews You Only Bend Once with a Spoonful of Mercury by Jennifer Robin. (Far West Books)

“The aristocracy were vampires. No drop of blood would be wasted in this ceremony.”

These are the kinds of thoughts you’ll find in Jennifer Robin’s new book of dreams, You Only Bend Once with a Spoonful of Mercury.

The dreams in this book are the kind you’d have in the deep slumber of night. At first, I was curious what this collection was going to be like because, in my world, you simply don’t tell people about your dreams. Sure, your dreams, to you, are fascinating. I’ll often find myself in awe of what my subconscious comes up with and wish I could harness some of that non sequitur creativity for my conscious mind.

On the other hand, our dreams, for other people, are boring. They don’t make any sense and, most of the time, are a hodgepodge of nonsense that don’t add up to anything other than telling the dreamer more about themselves—and even then, that’s a rarity. Dreams don’t tell me, as the listener, anything about you because it’s your subconscious at work—and that’s not necessarily a version of you that I’m familiar with.

You Only Bend Once with a Spoonful of Mercury is different. Jennifer Robin is able to weave a beginning, middle, and end into these dream stories. It’s less a book of dreams and more a book of flash fiction. But because they’re dreams, they’re naturally ridiculous and surreal in their content. Celebrities show up and play integral roles in the scenes, like when James Spader cares deeply about a dead crow in a post-apocalyptic hellscape or how Howard Stern, a shock jock DJ and a surgeon, has agreed to marry Robin after her immaculate conception.

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As the book went on, the celebrity appearances lessened, but the dreams became more surreal. Robin takes us further into her psyche as she explores the subconscious, wandering into a pride of tigers lounging in front of an old punk rocker’s house or a Grimm fairy tale-esque story about a father falling to his death after trying to find his kids’ opal. In a similar fashion to the start of the book, there are distinct beginnings and endings to these dreams, which again make them feel like flash fiction pieces rather than open-ended meanderings.

I think if the book pushed past its 115 pages, I might have found myself impatient. It’s not that the segments aren’t engaging and well-written—I’m more concerned about how many bite-sized surrealist tales I can read before my own brain starts trying to order things into something more easily digestible. Because of this, I think You Only Bend Once with a Spoonful of Mercury’s length is perfect. It’s long enough to give us a great chunk of work, but not too long that it overstays its welcome.

The later stories deal with power struggles and Robin tends to take the viewpoint of the disadvantaged. In one, we go into a cavern of vampires:

“Some couples were descending to a basement where the housekeeper, a woman as small as a child, had been placed inside an ornate limestone coffin. The guests were torturing her. I could see blood begin to leak out of the sides of the limestone coffin—stone walls to mask blood, which do not.”

Could this be a confession for how she views herself, powerless in the face of oppression? It could be, but at the same time, she’s constantly fighting back against it, giving us something concrete to cheer on and support. But also, how much of this is Robin filtering the subconscious stories her brain has come up with? Maybe a lot, maybe none. In the end, it doesn’t really matter because these stories are meant to speak for themselves, and boy, do they.

You Only Bend Once with a Spoonful of Mercury is an interesting book. I’m glad I had the chance to read it, and while I like to think I’m open-minded and willing to read anything, I think the dream angle would have turned me off had I simply picked it up off the shelf. With that said, I’m glad I didn’t write this one off. I’m glad I spent some time in Jennifer Robin’s subconscious. It’s a reflection of something bigger residing in a single person’s mind, and hell, maybe we all have a little spoonful of mercury tucked somewhere deep in our subconscious.

Buy now from Far West BooksBookshopIndieboundPowell’sAmazon, or Barnes & Noble.


Joseph Edwin Haeger is the author of Learn to Swim, a memoir published by University of Hell Press.


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Joseph Edwin Haeger

Joseph Edwin Haeger is the author of Learn to Swim (University of Hell Press, 2015). His writing has appeared in The Pacific NW Inlander, RiverLit, Hippocampus Magazine, and others. He lives in Spokane, Washington with his wife and son.

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