The Strange Ones began its life in the very decade it takes place in, the 1990s, but it took 25 years for it to finally appear in this complete form. That’s a long time for something to live in someone’s mind — some of the beginning chapters had appeared in Jeremy Jusay’s zine in the mid-90s, but most of the story lurked in his brain like an unfinished romance that got interrupted and no chance to rekindle.
It’s a pretty apt story behind the story considering the themes of the book. On the surface The Strange Ones is about a boy and a girl, college-age, connecting and wandering around New York City. But it’s also about memories, about what parts of them we keep with us, what parts of them we try to avoid, and which aspects of current life cause them to spring forth. It’s also about longing and the desire to complete oneself. And, most importantly, it’s about taking stock in order to tell a story.
The Strange Ones is told by Anjeline, who’s a bit lost in life as she struggles with what to do with herself and trudges through New York City seeking out something, though she doesn’t exactly know what. A chance encounter with a boy at a Belly concert bleeds into another part of her life, the State Island Ferry, where she discovers his name is Franck and that he lives on Staten Island as well.
It’s a slow process to getting to know one another as Anjeline and Franck begin to wander around the city and bond, though sometimes awkwardly. Anjeline is generous with what she puts into building the friendship, but conversationally and emotionally, but Franck is withdrawn. It doesn’t come off as disinterest so much as part of him is trapped somewhere else and he’s incapable of pulling himself wholly into the present. This adds a mysterious quality to his self-presentation and combined with a quirky wit and intelligence, Anjeline grows certain she has found if not a soul mate, then at least something akin to that.
But if Franck is in some ways a mystery to be solved, then thought should be given to the idea that once a mystery is uncovered, then it ceases to exist. The mystery is just gone. If The Strange Ones is about discovery and creating bonds, it’s also about loss and coming to terms with that. Part of the way that is achieved is through landscape. As Anjeline and Franck traverse New York City, the terrain of their travels elicits areas of their memories. Later it becomes the source for more recent ones as it presents markers of Anjeline and Franck’s experiences and not the ones they keep in their memories.
And that’s another thing The Strange Ones is about — life as constant movement, and the inevitable moments that moving forward is revealed as the same thing as moving on. Memory, when it overpowers a person enough to affect their engagement in the present, can be a trap, and it can be a struggle to not allow it that ultimate power. As suggested by Jusay’s ending, memory can be avoided as a trap through storytelling, since that frames memory, puts it to work, and makes you their master. It’s a satisfying and useful conclusion, and one that pays tribute to the form that hosts it.