Janjigian's Stories Portray Tragicomic Heroes with Hope
WATERTOWN, Mass. – If you ask author Ken Janjigian if the four stories in his newly published book, Trapped Doors, are autobiographical, he demurs. "There is no character who is purely autobiographical, but the characters and the incidents do come out of my experience."
Janjigian, a 1988 graduate of Clark University who holds a master's from Lesley College, has spent time in San Francisco, worked as a bartender there as well as at Charlie Kitchen in Cambridge and at Maison Robert, a Boston restaurant. He's also worked in a bookstore and driven a cab.
All four protagonists in his stories are artistic types who are working other jobs and trying to escape entangling commitments. There is certainly a suggested resemblance between the writer and his characters, a poet, a budding art critic, an eccentric who writes a novel that transcribes life, and a painter, who's influenced by the Armenian artist, Arshile Gorky. Three of the stories are set in San Francisco – the longest, "Stoker Caudwell: The Spectacle" takes place in Worcester.
Said Janjigian in a recent interview, "There is a thematic link between these stories and their characters. They are tragicomic guys, locked into their circumstances. These stories are a carnival of displaced persons."
Janjigian's gift for comedy is readily on display in his most evolved work, "Stoker Caudwell," which describes the plight of a university student with artistic ambitions, who falls madly in love with Lyra, his classmate. They meet in a film class taught "by a Greek neo-beatnik, Nick Karcinogenas." Nick is given to statements such as, "The American beats turned nihilism and existentialism into beauty. Beatitude. Of course, they were maligned, misinterpreted, consumed and ridiculed by the spectacle, or moloch as Ginsberg would label it."
To escape Nick's pseudo-Marxist, Surrealist babble, Stoker and Lyra embark on a Jack Kerouac-like on-the-road odyssey. At one point, they drive up to a house only to overhear a back-to-the-land type, Clarkson, talk about killing something or someone. Once Stoker and Lyra intervene, they discover a sworn enemy of mass culture, intent on shooting his TV.
When Lyra inexplicably falls in bed with Clarkson, Stoker, brokenhearted, takes off for San Francisco, where he scrounges up a job working as a bartender. Janjigian's descriptions of the varied cast of bar flies are painfully hilarious. These guys are egotists with big illusions and big dreams, who also happen to be drunks. They aren't going anywhere. Janjigian captures their dilemma in as pitiless a light as the American dramatist, Eugene O'Neill, and with considerably more humor.
Janjigian started this book in 1995 and first wrote it as a stream-of-consciousness work, featuring one narrator.
"I revised the novel in 2003 and decided to create four characters and have each one tell his stories."
Only one, "Dixson Naturian: Gone West," features an Armenian character. Once again, the setting is San Francisco, and Naturian is a painter who hopes to work on founding an art journal with a friend, and tries to draw inspiration from Arshile Gorky, whom he finds depressing. When his romance with Hannah, his girlfriend, falls apart, he goes east to live in Providence with Kegham, his grandfather, a survivor of the Armenian Genocide. While his uncle, Haig, finds Kegham reprehensible because he is a gambler, Dixson finds him admirable, a man who's devised a system. His grandfather's gift to him becomes a passage to a new life that he believes will realize his dream.
Janjigian demonstrates a knack for the comic and an ear for dialogue in these stories that might blossom into a full-length novel. He is currently working on a second work of fiction, while working two day jobs, teaching at a private school in Waltham and teaching English as a Second Language (ESL).
"There’s hope for all these characters, even though they are tragic," he concluded. And there is also hope for Janjigian in a budding career as a writer.