What the hell’s that creep up to?

Thomas Jones

  • BuyFamiliar by J. Robert Lennon
    Serpent’s Tail, 205 pp, £11.99, August 2013, ISBN 978 1 84668 947 5

Something remarkable happens in the opening pages of J. Robert Lennon’s seventh novel. Elisa Brown is driving home to Reevesport, in upstate New York, from Madison, Wisconsin, where her son is buried. She makes the journey once a year, by herself, in her beaten up old Honda with its smell of dog (her husband’s, from before they were married, now dead) and cracked windscreen. As she drives she thinks about the kinds of thing people think about on long solitary drives: her job, her hobby, her parents, her husband, her lover, her sons, the one who’s alive and the one who’s dead. She stops for gas, to eat, to pee. And then, after ten pages or so of this, Elisa sees a ‘perfect undented aluminium can’ lying by the side of the road, and slips into a parallel universe. But that slippage isn’t what’s remarkable (so far, so Twilight Zone), though it’s described with neat and graceful understatement:

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[*] Mailman was reviewed by Theo Tait in the LRB of 4 December 2003; Pieces for the Left Hand by Wyatt Mason in the LRB of 17 March 2005.

[†] Dzanc, 325 pp., £5.56, October, B00EP6PBLI.