Much like his contemporaries Kevin Wilson or Wells Tower, Lennon is one of those writers who defies categorization and is as...



Fourteen short stories about the quiet desperation and weary pessimism of a disparate collection of travelers.

One sometimes wonders if Lennon (Familiar, 2012, etc.) published his recent Salon essay, “How to Write a Bad Review,” in hopes of catching a break. Fortunately, the gifted novelist doesn’t need the help, especially if he continues to produce short fiction such as the unconventional yet emotionally resonant stories on display here. Culled from the past 15 years, the stories tend to drift toward two categories. The more exotic and eye-catching are those that insert some magical or paranormal element into a drab suburban landscape. In “Portal,” an otherworldly doorway to alternate universes becomes as boring as an old gaming console with time. In “Zombie Dan,” a couple finds that their recently resurrected pal is even more irritating when he comes back with an omniscient knowledge of their sins. In “The Wraith,” a wife’s depression cleaves from her to become a golemlike ghoul that haunts her husband. Then there’s “Weber’s Head,” an old-fashioned horror story whose narrator wouldn’t be amiss in the other category of stories of disaffected people on the edge of despair. “I was thoroughly debased, and at thirty-two felt like I’d been an old man for a long time,” says Weber’s roommate. “I saw no way of escaping the life I’d made for myself, save for the mountain falling down and crushing me.” This theme of characters with their songs stuck in their throats runs throughout the book in stories like “No Life,” in which a couple struggles with adoption; “Total Humiliation in 1987,” about a marriage on the rocks; and “Hibachi,” a Carver-esque tale of the liberating power of home appliances. Perhaps best to end with “The Accursed Items,” an interesting diversion originally broadcast on This American Life.

Much like his contemporaries Kevin Wilson or Wells Tower, Lennon is one of those writers who defies categorization and is as likely to fit comfortably into Weird Tales as he is into Granta.

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 2014

ISBN: 9781555976934

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: July 23, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2014

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It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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What's most worthy in this hefty, three-part volume of still more Hemingway is that it contains (in its first section) all the stories that appeared together in the 1938 (and now out of print) The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories. After this, however, the pieces themselves and the grounds for their inclusion become more shaky. The second section includes stories that have been previously published but that haven't appeared in collections—including two segments (from 1934 and 1936) that later found their way into To Have and Have Not (1937) and the "story-within-a-story" that appeared in the recent The garden of Eden. Part three—frequently of more interest for Flemingway-voyeurs than for its self-evident merits—consists of previously unpublished work, including a lengthy outtake ("The Strange Country") from Islands in the Stream (1970), and two poor-to-middling Michigan stories (actually pieces, again, from an unfinished novel). Moments of interest, but luckiest are those who still have their copies of The First Forty-Nine.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 1987

ISBN: 0684843323

Page Count: 666

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1987

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