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What the hell’s that creep up to?

Thomas Jones: J. Robert Lennon

21 November 2013
Familiar 
by J. Robert Lennon.
Serpent’s Tail, 205 pp., £11.99, August 2013, 978 1 84668 947 5
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... Something remarkable happens in the opening pages of J.RobertLennon’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 ...
24 January 2013
A Hologram for the King 
by Dave Eggers.
Hamish Hamilton, 312 pp., £18.99, February 2013, 978 0 241 14585 2
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... It’s not hard to describe the editorial career of Dave Eggers: he came to prominence in the late 1990s as founder of the literary magazine McSweeney’s, which is still publishing after 15 years and more than 40 issues. The influence of McSweeney’s on contemporary fiction can’t be overestimated. Its early aesthetic of mild experimentation, monochrome typographic clutter and wilful, crypto-absurdist ...

Edited by Somerset Maugham

Wyatt Mason: Bedtime stories for adults

17 March 2005
Pieces for the Left Hand: 100 Anecdotes 
by J. Robert Lennon.
Granta, 213 pp., £10, March 2005, 1 86207 740 1
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... that fiction provides: access to the unreasonable excess produced by another mind. There is little that is excessive and much that is reasonable in the early novels of the young American writer J.RobertLennon. At 34, Lennon, already the author of four novels, plots his books with a rigour and restraint uncharacteristic of writers of his generation. Whereas his immediate contemporaries Dave Eggers ...

What time can you pick me up?

J. Robert Lennon: ‘The Art of Fielding’

26 January 2012
The Art of Fielding 
by Chad Harbach.
Fourth Estate, 512 pp., £16.99, January 2012, 978 0 00 737444 1
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... be the hardest task of all. That hasn’t stopped large numbers of American writers producing baseball novels. A few have achieved the status of bona fide classics: W.P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe, Robert Coover’s The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop., Philip Roth’s The Great American Novel and Bernard Malamud’s The Natural. It was the last two of those novels I kept ...

I’ll have to kill you

J. Robert Lennon: ‘The Fall Guy’

19 April 2017
The Fall Guy 
by James Lasdun.
Cape, 266 pp., £12.99, January 2017, 978 1 910702 83 3
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... It isn’t until​ the halfway point of The Fall Guy, James Lasdun’s thrillerish new novel, that we are treated to its first overtly criminal act: breaking and entering. This book is about boundaries – emotional, social and moral – and it is with characteristic obliqueness that Lasdun gives us this first, long anticipated transgression: though the act strikes the reader as insane in its audacity ...

‘Hell, yes’

J. Robert Lennon: The Osage Murders

4 October 2017
Killers of the Flower Moon: Oil, Money, Murder and the Birth of the FBI 
by David Grann.
Simon & Schuster, 338 pp., £20, February 2017, 978 0 85720 902 3
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... Soon​ after firing James Comey, Donald Trump baited the former FBI director. ‘Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!’ Trump tweeted. Comey replied a month later, while testifying before the Senate intelligence committee. ‘Lordy,’ he said, ‘I hope there are tapes.’ David Grann couldn’t have known, when he began work ...

One Enchanted Evening

J. Robert Lennon: Chris Adrian

17 November 2011
The Great Night 
by Chris Adrian.
Granta, 292 pp., £16.99, June 2011, 978 1 84708 186 5
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... A doctor and former seminarian, Chris Adrian has over the past decade written three sprawling novels of unusual thematic scope and one collection of highly inventive short stories. His first novel, Gob’s Grief, was more varied in style and intent than some entire careers. Though it presents itself as an American Civil War picaresque (the opening line is: ‘Thomas Jefferson Woodhull was 11 years ...

Steaming like a Pie

Theo Tait: ‘Going Postal’

4 December 2003
Mailman 
by J. Robert Lennon.
Granta, 483 pp., £15.99, October 2003, 1 86207 625 1
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... going postal’ is a myth. Yet it’s a durable myth, the idea of the mailman as walking time-bomb: a cartoon version of what Philip Roth called ‘the indigenous American berserk’. The hero of J.RobertLennon’s fourth novel is a postal carrier, a loner in late middle age, moderately disgruntled, deranged to an uncertain extent – raising concerns that he will storm his place of work with a ...

The Jump-out Boys

J. Robert Lennon: The Drug-Bust that Wasn’t

3 August 2006
Tulia: Race, Cocaine and Corruption in a Small Texas Town 
by Nate Blakeslee.
PublicAffairs, 450 pp., £15.99, September 2005, 9781586482190
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... woman no longer even lived in Tulia: she worked as a nurse in a town many miles away, where she was when the supposed drug deals took place. Most puzzling, however, was the arrest of Freddie Brookins Jr. The son of a hard-working pillar of the black community, Freddie was quiet, plain-spoken and studious, and had excelled in athletics, basketball and football. He was ambitious, and rejected, Nate ...

Tastes like Cancer

J. Robert Lennon: The Sweet'N Low dynasty

8 March 2007
Sweet and Low 
by Rich Cohen.
Cape, 272 pp., £12.99, April 2007, 978 0 224 07272 4
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... My mother and grandmother, when I was a child, were both fairly diet conscious, and I recall them using Sweet’N Low – the saccharin-based artificial sweetener – in their coffee whenever we went out to eat. When nobody was looking, I would sneak one of the pink packets out of its little square plastic dispenser, rip it open, lick my finger, poke the powder, and have a taste. It was disgusting ...

Via ‘Bret’ via Bret

J. Robert Lennon: Bret Easton Ellis

24 June 2010
Imperial Bedrooms 
by Bret Easton Ellis.
Picador, 178 pp., £16.99, July 2010, 978 0 330 44976 2
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... The marketing blurbs for Bret Easton Ellis’s new novel, Imperial Bedrooms, would have it be a sequel to Less than Zero, the 1985 novel that made him famous. It is, after a fashion: all of Ellis’s books are sequels, prequels, spinoffs and derivatives of each other. They share a universe, or perhaps a multiverse, of interconnected fictional lives and storylines, all of which bear, or are supposed ...

Gloriously Fucked

J. Robert Lennon: Paul Auster’s ‘4321’

2 February 2017
4321 
by Paul Auster.
Faber, 866 pp., £20, January 2017, 978 0 571 32462 0
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... Paul Auster​ ’s new novel, 4321, is a lightly edited two-inch-thick Bildungsroman divided into four timelines, each a possible iteration of a single character’s life. That character is born at the end of a prologue consisting mostly of family prehistory: Russian Jews emigrate to New York and bear a child, Stanley; Stanley marries comely Rose, and they beget our protagonist, Archie Ferguson. From ...

Deny and Imply

J. Robert Lennon: Gary Shteyngart

16 December 2010
Super Sad True Love Story 
by Gary Shteyngart.
Granta, 331 pp., £12.99, September 2010, 978 1 84708 103 2
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... There’s just something about a schlump. Or rather, there must be, otherwise we American male novelists wouldn’t keep writing books about them. Let us observe Jonathan Franzen’s latest, in which the eco-maniacal egghead, at long last, gets the girl. Or Jonathan Lethem’s stoned underachievers, with their mad ideas that turn out to be right. David Foster Wallace gave us protagonists who shunned ...

Father of the Light Bulb

J. Robert Lennon: Kurt Vonnegut

22 February 2018
Kurt Vonnegut: Complete Stories 
edited by Jerome Klinkowitz and Dan Wakefield.
Seven Stories, 911 pp., £29.99, November 2017, 978 1 60980 808 2
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... For decades​ , Kurt Vonnegut was an unshakeable, if unconventional, part of the American literary canon: even if his books didn’t find a lot of traction in academia, they were in every high school library. That’s where I first encountered him, some time in the mid-1980s, when I was supposed to be getting a head start on my homework before track practice. I’d been sitting in the fiction section ...

Scary Dad

J. Robert Lennon

10 May 2018
My Absolute Darling 
by Gabriel Tallent.
Fourth Estate, 432 pp., £12.99, August 2017, 978 0 00 818521 3
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Elmet 
by Fiona Mozley.
John Murray, 311 pp., £8.99, March 2018, 978 1 4736 7649 7
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... A motherless​ 14-year-old child, unconstrained by society and gender, is being raised by a violent father. Shunned by their community, they live far from others, sustained by hunting and fishing; they pride themselves on their independence, their rejection of modern morality. Their home is roughly built, their clothes unfashionable, but their way of life is stable – until everything changes. That ...

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