High School
The Worst Kind of Want

False Bingo

9780374720421 fc
Paperback, MCD × FSGO, 2019
read an excerpt

"Combines the otherworldliness of Jeff VanderMeer’s “Annihilation,” the menacing irony of Shirley Jackson and the cold feminist fury of Margaret Atwood" --The New York Times Book Review

Named a Fall Read by The Boston Globe and the Chicago Tribune

The mundane becomes sinister in a disquieting story collection from the author of
The Grip of It

In Jac Jemc’s dislocating second story collection, False Bingo, we watch as sinister forces—some supernatural, some of this earth, some real and some not—work their ways into the mundanity of everyday life.

In “Strange Loop,” an outcast attempting to escape an unnamed mistake spends his days taxiderming animals, while in “Delivery,” a family watches as their dementia-addled, basement-dwelling father succumbs to an online shopping addiction. “Don’t Let’s” finds a woman, recently freed from an abusive relationship, living in an isolated vacation home in the South that might be haunted by breath-stealing ghosts.

Fueled by paranoia and visceral suspense, and crafted with masterful restraint, these seventeen stories explore what happens when our fears cross over into the real, if only for a fleeting moment. Identities are stolen, alternate universes are revealed, and innocence is lost as the consequences of minor, seemingly harmless decisions erupt to sabotage a false sense of stability. “This is not a morality tale about the goodness of one character triumphing over the bad of another,” the sadistic narrator of “Pastoral” announces. Rather, False Bingo is a collection of realist fables exploring how conflicting moralities can coexist: the good, the bad, the indecipherable.

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An excerpt from False Bingo


He found her already seated at the coffee  shop. 

“It’s so nice to finally meet you.” He held out his hand.

Bethany paused before accepting. 

“I’m Keith,” he said once her fingers were wrapped in his, and laughed at himself. “Of course, you know that. I’m sorry. May I?” He gestured to the chair across from her. 

Bethany nodded, wondered why he didn’t get himself a cup of coffee first. 

“No use in wasting time, so I’ll just ask,” he said. “Have you made a decision?” 

Bethany responded honestly. She shook her head. 

“Good, then I can still convince you.” Keith scooted his chair forward. “I know it’s a family heirloom, but if you keep it locked away in storage, what difference does it make if you technically own it or someone else does? If you sell it to me, you can visit it. I can loan it to you. We could even agree that you can buy it back at any time.” 

Bethany wondered why it mattered so much to him. That he wanted it so very badly made her want to refuse him the satisfaction. “How much are you willing to pay?” she asked. 

Keith blinked rapidly. “Well, we discussed fifty thousand dollars.” 

Bethany frowned. She had learned to do this during negotiations of any kind. 

Keith filled his lungs. “But I’m prepared to go up to seventy-five thousand dollars.” He looked down at her coffee cup now, ready to wait for her response. 

“Would you get me a refill?” she asked. She enjoyed this power. She held it tight.

Keith jumped up. “Of course.” She could feel his relief at stepping away. He ushered her mug over to the counter and asked the barista for a cup of his own, as well. She watched him closely as he pulled out a few bills. She examined the repetitive wear of his wallet on his back pocket. She noticed the bevel of the outside heel of his shoes, evidence of uncorrected supination and thriftiness. The money he offered her could be better spent. 

When Keith returned, he looked expectant, hopeful the delay might have delivered a verdict.

He sipped his coffee. "I'm happy to answer any questions." He smiled.

Bethany found the way he forced himself to keep his gaze on her willful. She respected his determination and broke eye contact herself to see his index finger fidget the cuticle of his thumb, torn raw and red. 

“Or maybe I can ask you a question,” Keith said. “What’s  holding you back? Why not sell it?” He lifted his mug to his lips again. 

Something about this query settled it for Bethany. “I’m sorry,” she said. “No deal.” 

Keith set his mug down a little too hard. Coffee rushed over the edge of the cup and ran down the tilt of the table into his lap. “Shoot,” he said. He ran to retrieve some napkins, wiping first at the splash on his pants and then mopping at the edges of the mug on the table. Bethany didn’t move or speak. When Keith finally resettled, he said, “Why?” 

Bethany looked into Keith’s eyes for the answer, but all she turned up was the realization that she didn’t need to explain it to him. She felt her shoulders flinch, as if the decision mattered little to her, no possibility of reversing it.

"There's nothing I can do to convince you?"

She shook her head and tightened her lips. 

Keith stood, a ball of wet napkins clenched in his fist. “Okay,” he said. “You know where to find me if you change your mind.” Blood swamped her heart. “Have a good afternoon, then.” Keith turned away, but spun back again. “I don’t have it, but if I’d offered a hundred thousand, would that have made a difference?” he asked. 

“No,” she said. She held out her hand, hoping to end the conversation as it had begun, before she remembered the wad of napkins. She placed her palm back on the table. 

“Then why . . . All right. Thank you, Joanne.” Adrenaline rushed behind the name Joanne, but Bethany maintained her composure. Keith walked away with purpose. He pulled open the door and Bethany watched through the window as he disappeared right and then crossed back left, changing his mind about where he was headed or unfamiliar with the neighborhood. 

Bethany wondered what it was Keith had wanted. She  wondered what Joanne had to give. She wondered why she felt like it was her place to decide for both of them, but it had all unfolded so easily. She took a last sip of her coffee and gathered her things. 

A woman in a polished pantsuit walked through the door, her eyes looking for someone. She asked at the counter about the man whom she was supposed to meet. 

Bethany let her fingers fall on the shoulder of the woman as lightly as possible and leaned in. “Joanne?” The woman’s whole body pursed under Bethany’s touch. “Keep it,” she whispered. 

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Jac Jemc

Rebecca Morgan

  • "[A] wide-ranging, zany collection that somehow combines the otherworldliness of Jeff VanderMeer’s “Annihilation,” the menacing irony of Shirley Jackson and the cold feminist fury of Margaret Atwood. Love the book or not, there’s no denying that Jemc has a gift for making you want to keep reading. It’s refreshing to witness a writer flexing in so many expository modes." --Siobhan Jones, The New York Times Book Review"[Jemc's] stories

    as surreal as they are scary
  • "[Jemc's] stories

    as surreal as they are scary
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