Dana Spiotta's "Jelly and Jack" was originally published in the December 14, 2015 issue of The New Yorker. Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage.

December 14, 2015I’m not familiar with Dana Spiotta’s work, so I hope someone can let us know more about it. A bit of research shows that she’s published three books: Lightning Field (2001), Eat the Document (2006; finalist for the National Book Award), and Stone Arabia (2011; finalist for the National Book Critic Circle Award). Her next book, Innocent and Others, is coming next year. “Jelly and Jack” is an excerpt from this novel.

You can find Deborah Treisman’s interview with Spiotta here.

I look forward to the conversation below!


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By |2015-12-07T01:39:13-04:00December 7th, 2015|Categories: Dana Spiotta, New Yorker Fiction|Tags: |9 Comments


  1. Adrienne December 8, 2015 at 2:35 pm

    When I was a little girl, my parents had Reader’s Digest Condensed books on a cheap metal shelf, that bowed in the middle under the weight of partial stories. I am always reticent about pieces pulled from a larger work – they usually feel flat and leave me disappointed.

    This time, however, not only did I enjoy this piece on its own, I am looking forward to reading the whole when it comes out next year. I want more, but not because something was lacking here. Rather, this tale was so complete that there must be more to discover about Jelly. There must be a further ending that answers the ending we find here.

    “Jelly” is how the narrator addresses the protagonist, a woman named Nicole. And as the story begins, I am brought into a Doris Day-like film but with real true, non-comedic seduction. Jelly lures and controls men through a “pink plastic Trimline phone”. She knows what she is doing – how long a conversation should last, how to listen to what the man is saying on the other end of the line, how to hear what he truly wants her to hear yet isn’t saying. She is in control. That is, until she dials Jack’s number.

    For the first time, Jelly finds the intimate distance of the phone to be too much. The phone is, indeed, “a weapon of intimacy”. The con artist finds herself conned by love itself. But this isn’t THE TWIST. There’s more. And when Dana Spiotta dropped it down in front me, I was truly surprised. For it wasn’t unbelievable, but I was unprepared. I was lured in by the seduction of minute and gorgeous details, unabashed storytelling – lulled by the process of the con and the process of fiction. I was caught unawares.

    I cannot stop thinking about this piece and I cannot soften the affect it had on my heart. This is not a condensed book, I assure you. Like Jack, I fell for Jelly’s enticements, and am anxious to see more of her.

  2. Roger December 12, 2015 at 11:24 pm

    I second Adrienne’s sentiments. This story is beautifully written and I never would have guessed it was anything other than its own freestanding story, rather than something drawn from a novel. Spiotta’s play on the word “belong” near the end is a gem within the gem of this work. Hey, it is still worth reading the New Yorker’s fiction after all!

  3. Greg December 25, 2015 at 4:20 am

    I agree with you Adrienne and Roger – What a great story!

    My favourite part was the explanation for why Jelly fantasized about being physically intimate with Mark but in the other woman’s body…..the reason being that Jelly’s desire depended on her perfection in the eyes of the man. And how a man would worship her in that body.

    Tessa Hadley also tackles this phenomenon in her latest novel, “The Past”. She asks whether only attractive women can find mutual love with another attractive person…hmm……….

  4. Adrienne December 26, 2015 at 10:50 pm

    Thanks for the heads up on Tessa Hadley’s novel, Greg! I’m going to have to look for that one! It is an interesting topic/idea, for sure… I am belong to the camp that believes there is an initial attraction which is surface, and then another, deeper, more true attraction that comes with physical and emotional intimacy. I believe beauty to be in the eye of the beholder – and the eyes of any beholder can be fickle and quite changeable, indeed.

    I believe Jelly was quite lovely – and her beauty had nothing to do with some scientific equation that dictates objective beauty, nor did it have to do with being between the ages of 18 and 23. If we don’t see her attractiveness in the story, then we sell our own selves short. We limit not just her potential for beauty, but ours as well.

  5. Greg December 27, 2015 at 11:11 pm

    Thank you Adrienne for sharing your thoughts on what constitutes beauty!

    Now, I am curious as to whether you agree to the following statement:

    “Men fall in love with whom they are attracted to whereas women are attracted to whom they love.”

  6. Adrienne December 28, 2015 at 10:13 pm

    I have heard that statement before… and there is a curious amount of truth to it. Obviously men and women approach love from a different locus, yet both are trying to get there. And in order for a relationship to last, both the physical and emotional attraction need to be there, whichever comes first. I think in this age of tremendous physicality, we are also seeing the other side of the coin – men being valued for their looks as well.

    My thoughts came from a place where there are men that find “unattractive” women attractive… and there are women who find themselves to be a “non-beauty” and yet a man will discern strongly that she is.

    I cannot wait to read the novel because I, too, am curious as to how Jack responds to Jelly. He has created his own picture inside his head – and heart – based on his own schemas and desires. Does his love change based on her looks? Will he forget the importance of his emotional attraction if he is disappointed with her looks? Will he be disappointed, even, or relieved – find her beauty to be of a timeless form rather than one of a photo-shopped five year expiration?

    In an anthropological way, men are looking for a woman who can and will produce and nurture his offspring. A woman is looking for a man who will provide and protect her and the offspring. One relies heavily on externally noticeable qualities – and another relies on an internal feeling of safety and security. This gives creedence to the statement you made. Jelly feels safe bearing her true personality to Jack – she’s released her control on the game and allowed it to affect her heart. Jack feels seduced and drawn into Jelly’s voice and word choice and mannerisms – he’s created a physical picture to match… or is at least desperately seeking one.

    This is why THIS is a good piece of fiction… it leaves us to ponder the state of human beings, our truths, our natures…

    Now that I’ve blabbed on and on, what do you think about the nature of attraction in men and women? Is this story accurate?

  7. Long December 30, 2015 at 11:08 pm

    I want to believe that Nicole has miscalculated.. that Jack does *not* care about her appearance (he’s a record producer, after all; I get the feeling he appreciates her for the musicality of her speech, which he perceives, not her looks, which only we know about).

    And I hope the ending is a woeful misunderstanding.. that he wants to “see” her in the sense of sharing a place with her, not in the sense of simply viewing her.

    Pollyanna, perhaps, but a boy can dream.

  8. Greg January 2, 2016 at 12:42 am

    Thanks Long for sharing your personal hopes on how the story will turn out……I can’t wait for the novel to be released to see if it happens this way!

    Also, thank you Adrienne for your comprehensive meditation on the many aspects of physical and emotional attraction. I have read your post three times, and you have definitely made me stop and think.

    ***So, I believe Jelly wants to experience the feeling of being physically irresistible to a man that she is emotionally involved with. This ego motivation is okay with me, but unfortunately she is not objectively attractive so she plays this game instead on the phone in order to get as close as possible to experiencing what ‘hot’ women get to feel with men they like……..what do you think?

  9. Adrienne January 2, 2016 at 8:39 pm

    Me, too, Long… I second your “Pollyana”!

    Greg: I am so disappointed and saddened! You might be right about Jelly – seeking for validation from a lustful admirer instead of authentic love. Gravy! I am so wrapped up in the story that I am forgetting her deceit. While it is self-protective and it is to meet emotional needs to be loved and valued (women are taught that physical beauty is a piece of that…), it is not honest. Without the truth of her physicality, their relationship can only go so far. When, and if, she is honest, the power is then in Jack’s hands. Will he find her appealing even though she isn’t mainstream – either because he likes her looks or because he has fallen for her emotionally first – or will he find her distasteful (because of her con or because of her looks) and end the relationship? I want Jack to be the man who is looking for both types of attraction. I bet Nicole is, too…

    Jelly will never feel what is to be loved by a man who loves her completely – physically and emotionally – until she is honestly willing to take the worthwhile risk.

    I have faith that there are men out there who would think she is their type.

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