Teaching Notes for Scales of the Ouroboros
Use in the classroom to discuss: segmented narratives; third-person narrative strategies
Scales of the Ouroboros by Mark Jednaszewski
Gather around for a modern sea shanty on cargo carrier. The bosun, the captain, the cat. The deck cadet, the oilers, the engineers. The crew snakes through each other's lives, sometimes lifting them, sometimes taking them, each a scale eating the others, eating itself.
Mark Jednaszewski grew up in Tampa and studied marine engineering at Kings Point. He splits his time between Philadelphia (with his wife and cats) and at sea, as the chief engineer on a car carrier. He holds an MFA from the Solstice MFA Creative Writing Program of Pine Manor College, where he was the 2018 Dennis Lehane Fiction Fellow. His work has appeared in Mineral Lit, Gravel, and elsewhere. He is a flash fiction editor with Lily Poetry Review and tweets occasionally @ninjaneerski.
In sharp, crisp slivers, Scales of the Ouroboros navigates the globe through the lives and misadventures of a crew who may well be slowly losing their grip on sanity. At once real and absurd, this book brings nautical literature into the 21st century.
Brian Evenson, author of Last Days and The Glassy, Burning Floor of Hell
Exquisitely crafted and a helluva lot of fun… A book that’s a pocket-sized world.
- Ben Loory, author of Tales of Falling and Flying
This collection by Mark Jednaszewski is like no other I've read. Formally inventive and immersive, gripping and strange, with more story and intrigue than seems possible in its few pages. The large cast of characters—a ship’s crew and its resident cat—are vividly drawn. The story is told in short, cinematically wrought chapters introduced in the manner of ship's log entries which serve to orient the reader to time and location under the stars. There's a novel's worth of death, desire, mishaps, and disasters, where even a single golden delicious apple is layered with menace. Jednaszewski's a masterful writer who knows this world and has made from that knowledge a collection more than worth your time. Highly recommended.
- Kathy Fish, author of Wild Life: Collected Works
Mark Jednaszewski's inventive and uncanny Scales of the Ouroboros is the most fun I've had at sea since Stanley Crawford's Log of the S. S. the Mrs Unguentine. As soon as I finished, I wanted to start again—and I cannot help wondering what stranger mysteries might have occurred if I had.
- Matt Bell, author of Appleseed
Scales of the Ouroboros depicts a ship’s crew as an organism whose elements possess dovetailing realms of technical expertise and a mesh of quietly bubbling tensions, secrets, hopes and obsessions. As their fates bump against one another, like waves, we come to learn which parts of themselves each individual has given up in order to be on the ship, as well as why they have chosen a life at sea. All this takes place against an ever changing, infinite backdrop of sky and ocean, described with a breathtaking lightness of touch. The sentences are rhythmic and kinetic; every scene rendered with cinematic lucidity. I wanted to stay inside this world forever.
- May-Lan Tan, author of Things to Make and Break
Mark Jednaszewski's Scales of the Ouroboros is an exacting, urgent fiction that commands the reader's attention from the opening sentence. As artful in its taut, economical prose as it is daring in its experimental form. This one stands alongside Stanley Crawford's Log of the S.S the Mrs. Unguentine as two of the best short maritime fictions I've read.
- Robert Lopez, author of Asunder and Kamby Bolongo Mean River
Mark Jednaszewski hits the bullseye with that rarest kind of fiction—a story unlike any you have read, while being true to life in a real-world setting. His tale is uniquely structured with the pleasures of a puzzle without the confusion. His characters are believable but wildly unusual. And word by word, he builds the story as solid as—well, a merchant ship. Hemingway would love this book.
- Sandra Scofield, author of The Last Draft and Swim: Stories of the Sixties
Scales of the Ouroboros is a sublime piece of art about working on a ship in the open turquoise seas. Mark Jednaszewski is an exciting new voice.
- Bud Smith, author of Double Bird
Written in exquisitely precise prose, Scales of the Ouroboros took me somewhere I have never been before. These seafaring vignettes conjure the roiling seas and the churning inner thoughts of the crewmen aboard The Trader. I read this slim volume twice in one night. The first time in a disorientated awe. The second time to marvel at the myriad connections Jednaszewski manages to weave together with seemingly no effort. This is a superb book.
- Josh Denslow, author of Not Everyone is Special
Scales of the Ouroboros traverses the oceans in 24 vignettes that are playful in form, sad, funny, and often beautiful in description. Mark Jednaszewski's insights of a life at sea come across in vivid colour here, taking in the vast sky above and the deep ocean floor beneath. Most touching, though, are his portraits of the characters on board, who Jednaszewski captures through gorgeously observed interactions and backstories, along with plenty of scandal, mischief and drama. After spending 24 time-bending hours on board this ship, I felt the sway of the ocean in my legs for a long while after.
- Neil Clark, author of Time. Wow.