Books by Bret Lott

Bret Lott is the author of the novels Jewel, Reed's Beach, A Stranger's House, and The Man Who Owned Vermont; the story collections How to Get Home and A Dream of Old Leaves; and the memoir Fathers, Sons, and Brothers. His stories and essays have appeared


DEAD LOW TIDE by Bret Lott
Released: Jan. 17, 2012

"Huger is an appealing narrator, but his story of finding himself is only moderately interesting, and the tacked-on thriller is cartoonish."
In Lott's follow-up to his coming-of-age/murder mystery The Hunt Club (1998, etc.), Huger Dillard, now a grown man but not exactly mature, confronts another murder 10 years later. Read full book review >
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WOMEN AND MEN by Bret Lott
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: July 12, 2005

"Slow-moving and sometimes opaque to the point of confusion."
Third collection from Lott (A Song I Knew by Heart, 2004, etc.) offers 15 mostly sour, sometimes surreal domestic tales plus a self-indulgent postscript. Read full book review >
A SONG I KNEW BY HEART by Bret Lott
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: April 20, 2004

"Repetitious, slow-moving, endlessly sentimental."
An elderly widow loses a son but gains a daughter as she returns to her roots and allows an old wound to heal. Read full book review >
THE HUNT CLUB by Bret Lott
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: March 1, 1998

A gifted and expert storyteller (Reed's Beach, 1993, etc.) takes a slightly different—and not altogether successful—turn in his first thriller, set in the lowlands of South Carolina. Fifteen-year-old Huger Dillard narrates, with colloquial southern charm, the deadly adventure he and blind Uncle Leland stumble across at the opening of deer season. Leland, referred to as ``Unc,'' owns the Hungry Neck Hunt Club, several thousand undesirable acres catering to city slickers eager to play weekend frontiersmen. The mystery begins when Huger and Unc stumble on the body of Dr. Charles Simons, head blown off, hands skinned, and a cardboard placard propped on his body—signed by his disgruntled wife. The story then, which takes place in three rapid days after the body's discovery, becomes a chase for the truth. Unc falls under suspicion, Huger is nearly killed by a couple of crazed rednecks, Mrs. Simons ``commits suicide,'' and Huger's mother is kidnapped. Ultimately, the motivation is revealed as simply greed (what else?), with the goal either an ancient buried treasure or the Hunt Club's land, which Unc has always refused to sell and which apparently is earmarked for a resort. Brought into the intrigue is Miss Dinah, who cooks Saturday meals for the Club members while unnerving Huger with ancient tales of African kings haunting the marshes, and her teenage daughter Dorcas, deaf, dumb, and brilliant. The story stumbles just at the traditional payoff: the revelation of the conspiracy. As a group of shackled innocents, including Unc and Huger, wait for execution, the villain diligently explains all, detail by detail. A series of reversals follow before the killer is brought to justice. Ironically, Lott's characters seem too interesting for their conventional plot; the bits of family secrets, history, and lore scattered throughout here are far more compelling than the adventure these sympathetic folk are thrown into. (Author tour) Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: June 6, 1997

This lean midpoint memoir, fleshed out of collected short essays, alternates analysis of the author's male family relations with reflections on his experiences as the married father of two young sons. Novelist Lott (Reed's Beach, 1993, etc.)—a writing instructor at the College of Charleston and Vermont College—declares intriguingly that there is no way for him to write about his life without writing of ``RC,'' or Royal Crown Cola. His father's and his own early employer, the company is the locus on which his childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood centered and the subject of two of the longest pieces here. Lott is good at evoking the mysterious fraternal dynamic, the intensity of a father's love, the ambivalence of being a son and needing at once to accept parental guidance and to find one's own course. Some pieces succeed through use of a single clear image, as of the world ``growing blue'' for the author and his older son on a crisp December day spent outdoors following a rare South Carolina snowfall, a reflection that both gains context from and grounds subsequent recollections. In other chapters, though, Lott seems only to reach after epiphany, rather than arrive at it naturally. At its strongest, the writing focuses on concrete details, such as the author's childhood ritual of kneeling with his brothers at the curb, pouring out, in preparation for redemption, the returned soda bottles his dad brought back from his business rounds: Viewing the multibranded and hued soda swirling down the gutter, the boys ``watch the colors collide and move and mix,'' and out of such particulars a metaphor, unstated, is born—the river of soda as river of life. Lott has an instinct for the universal and sometimes finds it when he's not diverted by pursuit of everyday, less remarkable truths. Read full book review >
HOW TO GET HOME by Bret Lott
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: July 22, 1996

A second collection from Lott (after A Dream of Old Leaves, 1989) comprised of a novella and 16 stories, many of which document the slow, sad movements of characters from his earlier works. The novella ``After Leston,'' which opens the volume, sets the tone: understated despair. Jewel Hilburn (the narrator of Jewel, 1991) describes the routines of her days with Brenda Kay, her retarded daughter, and reminisces about the death of her husband and her struggle to adjust to a new life in California as a widow. Most of Lott's stories proceed in similar fashion, seeming not so much narratives as character sketches. In ``Open House,'' a working-class couple acts out its fantasy of owning a house by placing a phony bid on a mansion. In ``From Ulysses, Kansas,'' a grown man whose brother has just died in a car wreck tries and fails to voice his anger toward their estranged father. The unemployed and increasingly desperate family man of ``Driveway'' cannot bring himself to tell his wife and children that their dog has been killed. The nearly broke couple who move into a motel and try to make a new start in ``The Day After Tomorrow'' find themselves haunted by a ghoulish desk clerk whose insane ramblings and insinuations convince them that they are in fact doomed. Throughout, Lott creates a landscape of almost unremitting pain, a world where hidden griefs, too deeply felt to be denied, are never far beneath the surface. Although the sorrow that pervades the lives of his characters is credible and palpable, the rhetorical restraint of the narration—``Now the kids only made it out on holidays, the rest of the time Carol and I went out by ourselves. I felt like we had lost the kids after that, like they had died''- -gives the work a flatness and monotony that quickly become tedious. A sharp eye whose clarity is deadened by a too tightly closed voice. Lott (Reed's Beach, 1993, etc.) needs to come up for air. Read full book review >
REED'S BEACH by Bret Lott
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Oct. 1, 1993

An unfortunate exercise in self-indulgence disguised as sorrow. Lott (Jewel, 1991; A Dream of Old Leaves, 1989; etc.) gives us an extended portrait of paternal grief so unrelenting and so ultimately barren that the reader ends up nearly as stranded as the housebound couple at the center of the story here. Hugh and Lora Walker have lost their son Michael. He was struck and killed by a car three months ago, and Hugh's initial shock and dismay have crystallized into something so profoundly silent and terrifying that even his boss takes notice. ``Son,'' he tells Hugh, ``I have three boys. I have three of them, grown up and gone. And believe you me, son, you are not okay.'' So he awards Hugh a leave of absence and gives him and Lora the use of his summer house on the Jersey shore. During the single day around which the story moves, Hugh and Lora wander through this strange house by the sea and try to imagine what went wrong. Naturally and not surprisingly, Michael's death turned over a very old log that had settled itself in quite snugly, and it makes Hugh and Lora take a fresh look at all that they have buried down the years. There is the marriage, of course: for years, their son was the main thing they had in common, and it had kept each from noticing how dreary and old the other was becoming. And Hugh's job in payroll, once he stops to think about it, is pretty banal. Lora's reveries have their own edge: they include secrets about herself that she can't reveal to Hugh. So in the end, as in the beginning, neither of them has much to say. Hopeless, plotless, and endless. Lott tries to express an inexpressible sorrow and illuminates almost nothing of his characters or his tale in the process. Read full book review >
JEWEL by Bret Lott
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Nov. 1, 1991

An author of small domestic fictions (A Dream of Old Leaves, 1989; A Stranger's House, 1988; etc.) takes on larger issues in this resonant novel about simple people who reach a state of grace through human tragedy. Jewel and Leston Hilburn are poor Mississippi ``crackers'' and the glad parents of five ordinary children during WW II. Jewel- -whose strong, maternal voice narrates—hears the prophetic words that will change her life forever when Cathedral, a ``niggerwoman servant,'' tells her ``the baby you be carrying be your hardship, be yo test in this world.'' Five months after the birth of Brenda Kay, Jewel learns that this sixth and last child is a ``Mongolian Idiot,'' not expected to live beyond the age of two. But over the next 41 years Jewel realizes the ``giant blessing and curse of a retarded child''—her love for Brenda Kay so fierce and so blinding it runs roughshod over everyone else close to her. Rather than accept a future for her baby in a dead place, she nearly destroys Leston—the only man she's ever loved—by twice uprooting him from Mississippi to California. Consumed by rage and blame, she humiliates Cathedral, her one true friend, because of an accidental fire that leaves Brenda Kay scarred for life. She accepts emotional gaps with her other children—words spoken too late, an embrace interrupted—because she is so bound up in Brenda Kay's salvation. Yet, with all the sacrifice, the glory, and the pain, Brenda Kay's triumphs seem small in the end: she learns to whisper; she can hum a tuneless tune, she writes the letter B, she sometimes laughs. But, though she never grows beyond the mental age of six, Brenda Kay is deeply loved, her very existence a sign of ``the Lord smiling down'' on these good people. A quiet, at times slow-moving novel with exquisite moments of tenderness and the gift for elevating the commonplace to the sublime. Read full book review >