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.