Open Mason’s Jar to sample some damned tasty fiction.

Forget overpriced gourmet cuisine and Michelin-starred meals, it’s time for some more straightforward fare. Author John Jantunen has cooked up a feast of a novel. Mason’s Jar is as honest as the preserves that once lined grandma’s pantry…provided your ‘Gammy’ traded her spice rack for hard-to-swallow truths. But don’t worry, there’s enough humour skillfully mixed throughout this book to make an enjoyable balance.

Things may be bad out there now but, at least, they can’t get any worse, right? In Mason’s Jar, Jantunen sets out to prove otherwise. He takes our modern world as a starting point and posits a near-future where our familiar crises—mental health, opioid, housing, and climate change—have all been left to moulder. Readers will need to bite down as this literary bone-saw chews through their preconceptions.

Too often modern Canadian literature feels confining. The lid is screwed down tightly on this country, after all. For many ‘CanLit’ has become a bloated cliché-ridden monolith—home to the sort easy-to-digest narratives and nation-building pablum best kept in schools. To those tired of literature’s rotting fruit—those well-intentioned but bland books force-feeding stale conformity—Jantunen’s work is the purgative.

Violent pasts and uncertain futures abound in this searing mash-up of western, sci-fi, and horror. Mason’s Jar asks the hard questions and provides even harder answers. Luckily, the novel blends gut-wrenching loss, stoner humour, and shocking violence into a whole that rises above its, often deeply troubling, ingredients. In short, Jantunen dials the dystopia up to eleven. And, in doing so, creates the sort of story that sticks to your ribs.

The drug epidemic is central to Mason’s Jar. Tired of fermenting in his own misery, retired police chief Mason Lowry is cracking under the pressure of trying to care for his increasingly senile wife when his biggest arrest, Clarence Booth, is released from prison. Certain that the man is seeking revenge and convinced that Booth and his gang are behind the spread of Euphoral—the drug which killed Mason’s teenage granddaughter and is ravaging the city he once protected—the ex-cop goes on the offensive. There lies his path to redemption. If only he can convince himself that he deserves the chance.

Mason’s Jar presents a less-appetizing Canada, one deeply troubled and increasingly divided. Generational trauma and decades of easy-answers have rotted our nation. It is a future as predictable as it is plausible. Jantunen serves up a textured novel full of lingering resentment, tragic consequences, and characters who repeatedly lie…to themselves and each other. Feeling all-too familiar, Mason Lowry’s world isn’t far removed from modern reality—which is the novel’s one flaw.

Taking a meat cleaver to Canada’s self-importance, Jantunen grinds our comforting delusions down and plates a novel bursting with outrage. Mason’s Jar serves as stark warning to readers grown fat on comfort foods. There is nothing vanilla about Jantunen’s style. He doesn’t spoon-feed his audience. No one escapes unscathed, not his ‘heroes’ nor the reader. This is the type of book that weighs heavy. You’ll want to gorge, hastening through every delicious bite as if downing fast food. But, much like a perfectly grilled steak, readers would be better off lingering over Mason’s Jar

The novel is a powerful indictment of the ever-widening chasm in Canada’s wealth-centric, class-based system. Jantunen shows readers how the sausage gets made and that there’s nothing ‘civil’ in how society treats the unwelcome…the poor, the downtrodden, and all the rest we benignly ignore. That, Mason’s Jar posits, is far better than being blamed and actively punished. 

The novel’s central question is one of redemption. Can Mason Lowry, who once took pride in upholding ‘the system’, cope with the long-delayed realization that he might have been part of the problem? Long past his best before date and resigned to living out his days in hardship and heartache, Mason Lowry learns—to his surprise and shame—that his fate is not set and his sins are not unforgiveable. All he has to do is sacrifice almost everything he ever believed in. 

Mason’s Jar is sure to be red-meat to genre-lovers. It may appear yet another cheap cut. Full of gristle and bone. But, prepared with utmost skill by a consummate professional, it—like all of Jantunen’s fictions—proves eminently satisfying. 

Posted on: August 30, 2023, by :

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