Absinthe Literary Review, Book Reviews Spring 2002
B O O K   R E V I E W

Autumn/E&T 2006


Docufictions by Harold Jaffe


Raw Dog Screaming Press


153 pp.

(Review by Amy Andrews)


If you've ever wondered what your daily paper might read like, stripped of all pretense of political correctness, misdirection, and subterfuge, perhaps Harold Jaffe can provide a glimpse. In his book of "docufictions," Jaffe (False Positive, 15 Serial Killers) reconstructs news reports, interrogations, conversations, and official files blending fact and fiction to illustrate his points. Drawing from print and online sources that include Le Monde, Le Figaro, the Guardian, BBC News online, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Z-Net, and the San Francisco Chronicle, Terror-Dot-Gov offers readers newsy reports of Middle East hostage beheadings and releases, an account of a pizza delivery man robbing a bank while wearing an explosive collar, a German man on trial for murdering and cannibalizing his allegedly willing victim, and more. From imagined conversations with military wives and bodyguards, average Americans, Israelis and Arabs, Jaffe's got a lot to say about the state of the American psyche and the war on terror.

Some of Jaffe's pieces are stellar. "Trader Joe's" recording of a conversation between a person who's probably an average American and an unknown inquisitor smarts in its sharp critique of Americans' lifestyle, culture, and worldview. A blistering critique of Army recruitment, culture, and patriotism in "Terror Couture" casts a wide net, from the United States Army to Madonna and the NBA.

Regrettably, Terror-Dot-Gov as a collection is uneven. For as many spot-on observations the author makes that will have the ability to make readers squirm in self-recognition, just as many simply leave an unfinished feeling, like I'm just too obtuse to get the joke. I appreciate Jaffe's commentary. He pulls no punches and strikes close to home, giving voice to alternative points of view not often considered and drawing parallels rarely made by mainstream media, for example, noting the similarities of a Palestinian's experience to that of the Jews in Europe during World War II. But sometimes his efforts are a bit too vague. It's clear that by not identifying some speakers in the pieces that are reconstructions of conversations, readers will be able to read their own meaning into these vignettes, attributing any number of identities to those articulating their perspectives. But on the other hand, a few speakers are so without recognizable characteristics, I'm afraid Jaffe's meaning and intention aren't as strong as they could be, leaving what could be effective political and social commentary floundering.

Terror-Dot-Gov is a powerful book, able to reframe readers' perspective on the news and opinion provided by popular media. But after ripping readers' blinders off, Jaffe provides them with no further guidance. Okay, I've read this or that story, now I'm pissed off so….. what do I do now? Maybe it's not his job to answer that question for readers, but perhaps a vignette or two about the average person taking action would have nicely rounded out the collection and provided readers with continued food for thought. Right now the book is just commentary, not a call to action.

The docufiction idea is an interesting premise, and works well for almost all of the book's vignettes. However small grammatical and stylistic inconsistencies detract from the realism Jaffe works so hard to achieve. Little things like "mommy" instead of "Mommy," changing Rosie to Rosey within three paragraphs, and "monopoly" rather than "Monopoly" when referring to the Parker Brothers board game-- all of these things force the reader out of the book, severing the connection to the story.

Portions of a few of the news stories are pretty graphic-- the description of the psycho-sexual killing and consuming of the victim in the German cannibalism case was certainly enough to make my stomach churn. Although it was hard to tell in places where Jaffe might have been trying to comment on media consumers' bloodlust, that so much of the coverage of sensational crimes glosses over the actual method of murder and mayhem, or that peoples' thirst for knowing more about crimes will ultimately lead to new coverage such as this, this literal blow-by-blow of one man eating another man's genitals for sexual pleasure came across as over the top.

Harold Jaffe's Terror-Dot-Gov is innovative and timely; his commentary on topics seen often in daily news reports will resonate with readers whose senses have glazed over, reading and hearing the same spin from the same talking heads, over and over again.