The Heartbreaking Tale of a Cheese Stealer

Canadian Author’s Debut Novel Explores the Life and Mind Struggles Of a Writer

graphic by Sam Jones.

How can I begin to describe The Cheese Stealer’s Handbook? The novella is everything from unique to heartbreaking and its ability to get under your skin is intense. The author uses his writing as a platform to confess every inch of his misfortunes and doesn’t hesitate to share explicit details.

The writing is brilliant and quick-witted to the point where it makes you wonder how someone can have such farcical thoughts about nearly everything he encounters. Shoshaku Jushaku, an alias created by the author himself, means “one continuous mistake” and reflects his work in an accurate light.

The book is either an illuminated story told through some of the calamities endured in his life, or is just a straightforward autobiography of everything he’s ever experienced; hopefully, for his sake, it isn’t the latter. The narrator of the Handbook indulges in a fair amount of drugs and alcohol while hoping to finish a novel.

“The need to write a book can destroy you—more than heroin, more than liquor, more than unrequited love,” said Jushaku.

When asked why the need to write a book could be so consuming, the author’s explanation was simple.

“Hyperbole, I guess; it’s something that you can do in a bar,” he said. “You can always steal pens. You can’t go pawn your pen. It’s a financial factor if anything else.”

The book starts off with a breakup that isn’t handled with any care whatsoever. The book actually emphasizes how little the narrator tries to mend things. He constantly struggles to find meaning in everyday life. Later on in the book, when he meets another girl, he immediately cuts himself short and underestimates his ability to succeed with her from the forefront.

This is the attitude he displays throughout the entire book. So here’s the real question: what’s the intrigue when reading about this man’s inability to pick himself up, make at least one good decision and finally change?

The answer is in the writing. It causes you to really empathize with the narrator and imagine what it would be like to be so depressed and live in a world where the most powerful fix doesn’t even cure those demonic thoughts. You experience life through the eyes of a true addict and, in essence, the tragedy you’ll never know creeps up to you for those few seconds, sends shivers down your spine and then washes away in a beat.

“I kind of liked it as a title for its lack of meaning,” said Jushaku when asked what jumped out at him when he named his book.

Ironically, throughout the story the narrator searches for meaning in his writing and daily life so his intent is reflective of general theme.

“I really didn’t want my mom finding out about it,” Jushaku said when asked about why he chose to use a synonym. “Yeah, unfortunately she read it, but she never brought it up. She did say ‘I bought ten copies of a book that I can’t give away to any of my friends.’”

Because the events in the book are so raw and dark, one has to wonder whether or not Jushaku has met others with rougher lives than him.

“Of course, lots of people,” he said. “I was born in Canada; I haven’t had that hard a life. Any bad things in my life are pretty much self-inflicted.” This would be obvious to anyone who’s read his tales.

Jushaku compares his writing to him being “the drunk at a party who picks up a guitar and plays for an hour, giant Spinal Tap air-band windmill arm motions, expending a ton of energy without knowing a single chord.”

Quite the analogy.

“Sometimes I’ll scribble stuff down as its happening and other times it’ll be later,” Jushaku says of his process. “It gives me some detachment from [the characters and events] because you can treat them or change them.”

Most of his characters are fictionalized, but he’s sure that some of his representations are borrowed from certain real life happenings.

“I don’t want to glorify misogyny or debauchery,” he said. “I’m not sure you could do it in a movie, because it would either be too dark and I’d probably get sick of it too.”

Jushaku says if he has any advice to give aspiring novel writers it would be to “not do drugs and to treat girls nicely.”

This book is recommended because it’s a good read and the author is charming. He’s obviously a really smart guy ruled by a crappy lifestyle and his coping mechanism lies in writing. This is a great chance to look into the mind of a self-destructive but thought-provoking individual.