Buzzed Books #84 by Drew Barth
Colin Winnette’s The Job of the Wasp
We’re hard in the holiday Season so that means it’s time for ghosts. Slight horror around the holidays seems like a kind of tradition—from A Christmas Carol to Santa Jaws—so I had to maintain the spirit of spirits. This is where The Job of the Wasp by Colin Winnette makes its entrance, and although not exactly a holiday novel itself, it still ticks off those Dickensian boxes of ghosts and orphans. The Job of the Wasp is one of those novels that excels at creating the kind of tension necessary in any good ghost story—we don’t believe in ghosts until the story makes us.
The Job of the Wasp is and isn’t a ghost story at the same time. We’re told that ghosts exist from characters outside our narrator, but that narrator completely rejects the idea at every opportunity. But the ghosts, as they appear, are something more interesting. Ghosts have become, in the orphanage the boys exist in, both tradition and a means of instilling fear. Ghosts offer control and a way of dealing with boys who aren’t necessarily well liked. We can see how Winnette sprinkles the idea of the ghost sparingly throughout the novel: little noises the narrator mentions, seeing faces that aren’t recognizable, a sudden body count. The distinct indecision is what makes the ghosts the most interesting—we can believe the narrator and accept them not being real, or we can get swept up like the rest of the boys.
The air of unreliability is thick throughout The Job of the Waspdue in no small part to our unnamed narrator. His actions, his paranoia, his constant internal monologue that paints pictures of grand schemes and conspiracies is what drives not only the story but the rest of the boys in the orphanage to hate him. And, at times, it’s not hard to see why they hate this unnamed boy.
Over the course of a few months, he fails to learn a single name or face and fails to attempt connections with the people around him. So consumed is the unnamed narrator in his paranoia that he is completely self isolated. And because we are so completely in his head, we get the sense that his unreliability is intentional, that the narrator chooses to see the world in his own way as a means of escaping from it.
Colin Winnette has crafted a deeply fascinating novel that combines some of the best elements of Dickensian character studies and Lord of the Flies-esque peril.
A story is always great with ghosts. But still. The story is a mystery, a conspiracy, a treatise on never leaving boys to their own devices, and, more than anything, an extraordinary piece of fiction that gives us a slightly altered view of our world.
Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.