Here, instead of a tale told from beginning to end, we have a sequence replayed five times with variations: a series of messengers are commissioned to retell an amnesiac's life story. The message is simple: her name is Foe; she's a linen and silk seamstress; her mother died in a car accident when she was 12; her father was killed in a duel by a man with a green mustache; and there was no one to comfort her when she began her apprenticeship. But Foe cannot or will not remember, none of the messengers are adequate to the task, and consequences follow.
You could look at The Failure Six as a parable on how memory always fails us; its central character isn't named "Foe" for nothing. But this is no color-by-numbers morality tale. If, to quote Samuel Johnson, the true art of memory is the art of attention, then The Failure Six attends to the past's elusive imprint, the future's inevitable failure, to how forgetting may be a way toward unbecoming, and then toward becoming something else. It's an exquisite memento of wildly imagined scenes, odd characters, and nightmares confused with waking life, a slipstream loop where bureaucracy and hallucination are so intertwined that you're often confused which is the most absurd. This novella is a bright thing, something like a mostly forgotten, but still well-tooled memory that insists itself every so often.
--John Madera, The Brooklyn Rail
This sick little fairy tale took me to a world without speech, a world of recycled bureaucracy, a place of tests and windows, foxes and leashes, men with green beards, extended onomatopoeia, geometric shapes everywhere, and certain execution. The thing is, Jones does all of this unassumingly. His writing is unadorned but somehow still poetic. This is a story about failure, but not just failing once. No, that would be too easy. These characters fail again and again, each time worse than the one before, each time more wary of punishment. I left this book feeling destitute, and that was ok by me. Shane's gotten a lot of press lately because of the well-deserved love of his first book, Light Boxes, but people, don't forget about this one! Love this one too! Shane makes me smile.
--Lily Hoang, Big Other
In The Failure Six, a group of messengers, who work for a vast bureaucracy, all struggle with the same task - to retell the life story of a woman named Foe who seems to have lost her memory. The irrepressible emotions of the messengers - and Foe's clear need to be left alone in her amnesia - make for a strange, unaccountable, untellable story.
In this town, speech is accomplished through stacks of paper so tall they touch the sky...the floors of a teahouse are built in seconds...and a mysterious character named DH threatens the town with bombs and his "Deliverer" who wields the world's most expensive revolvers. The Failure Six is a mystery grounded in Kafka, Gogol, and human dreams.