“Chum,” the new novel by Jersey City native and current Hoboken resident Jeff Somers, is in many ways just another step in what the author described last week as “a mobius strip of a career.”
Written a little over a decade ago but never published, the dark comedy about relationships between a group of friends attempting the transition from college to adulthood closely resembles the style of Somers’ first novel, “Lifers,” which was published by a small publishing company in 2001.
Since then, Somers has built a successful career with major publishers via his science fiction series. Somers’ wildly successful Avery Cates novels have been published by Orbit, a division of the Hachette Book Group. “Chum” was published by Tyrus Books, a subsidiary of F+W Media.
“Chum” does away with the sci-fi style in favor of the author’s early interests.
“That’s what I was writing at the time, these darkly comedic novels that have some crime elements to them,” he said. “When I was a teenager I wrote a lot of science fiction, which is something that I got back into in my thirties. Now I’m sort of twisting back toward crime noir.”
While a crime does take place in “Chum,” it isn’t expressly a crime novel as much of a character study chock full of deliberate anachronisms and told from multiple points of view.
The novel kicks off at the wedding of two friends in a larger group, allowing the characters an opportunity to measure their own progress in life, then zigzags through a year in their lives with scenes set on most major holidays.
“The idea for the book was sort of inspired by my own transition between college and a more adult worldview.” – Jeff Somers
Particularly interesting about the novel is its back-and-forth point of view strategy, with some chapters retelling the same scenes from multiple points of view. Somers said he thinks it makes for a more exploratory reading experience, and resembles the reality that even the closest of friends can react differently to the same circumstances. It also made the novel more fun to write, Somers said.
“You have to go back and refer to what you’ve previously written, while still realizing that your characters aren’t all reliable in their memories,” he said. “They’re being completely sincere, they just remember things differently. It also forgives a litany of sins [as a writer], and makes continuity a lot simpler.”
Somers moved to Hoboken in 2001 and lives here with his wife and their cats. He has become known for having a lot of interaction on the web with readers, producing humorous videos and essays about life with the cats, writing, drinking, and other staples of life.
Somers said that “Chum” isn’t directly reminiscent of anyone particular in his life or past, but admitted that there might be some similarities.
“Anytime you write anything, the people in your life inspire it to an extent,” he said. “There’s no one-to-one character or events, but it’s about a feeling and atmosphere. Everyone has experienced that sort of doomed feeling that you get when you realize you’re no longer young.”
And while Somers has never explicitly set any of his works in his native Jersey City or Hoboken, he said he cannot help but imagine Hudson County as the natural location where many of his stories take place.
“I think Jersey City is probably always going to be my model for any kind of an urban setting,” he said. “Even a story that’s ostensibly about Manhattan, Jersey City is the model for that. But I haven’t written anything that uses Hudson County as a character that affects the story.”
Somers attended St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City before graduating from Rutgers and getting a job in publishing.
Like his characters, Somers himself is no longer as young as he was when he wrote “Chum” even though another of his literary ventures, his self-published zine The Inner Swine, has spanned his entire career, from science fiction to crime noir and back again.
Originally photocopied by Somers and his friends at Rutgers University in the mid-nineties, The Inner Swine has gone through multiple reinventions, most recently from a print edition sold in Tower Records stores around the world to an e-book edition sold exclusively for Kindles and Nooks.
Primarily filled with short stories and streams of consciousness published on Somers’ blog and elsewhere, The Inner Swine is currently published biannually.
“Chum” is available for purchase on Amazon, and The Inner Swine can be purchased at www.innerswine.com. Learn more about Jeff Somers at www.jeffreysomers.com.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org