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What the hell’s that creep up to?

Thomas Jones: J. RobertLennon

21 November 2013
Familiar 
by J. RobertLennon.
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 old Honda with its smell of dog (her husband’s, from before they were married, now dead) and cracked windscreen ...
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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... of careers and spawned many imitators. Guest editors undertook wacky, Oulipian conceptual projects. One issue was accompanied by a soundtrack from the indie-pop duo They Might Be Giants; another consisted of a cardboard box full of pamphlets. An always packed reading series in Brooklyn – where the magazine was then based – strengthened the impression ...

Edited by Somerset Maugham

Wyatt Mason: Bedtime stories for adults

17 March 2005
Pieces for the Left Hand: 100 Anecdotes 
by J. RobertLennon.
Granta, 213 pp., £10, March 2005, 1 86207 740 1
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... note that accompanied his list, he suggested that ‘the wise reader’ will ‘get the greatest enjoyment out of reading them if he learns the useful art of skipping’. Skip, then, to the moment when the American publishing house John C. Winston Company, taking Maugham at his word, hired him to demonstrate this art. Under ...

What time can you pick me up?

J. RobertLennon: ‘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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... metaphors: home run, bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, strikeout, pinch-hitter, double-header, major league, minor league, bullpen, slugger. There are people who use these terms, utterly confident in their meaning, who couldn’t name a single active player. Baseball is big in America, but the idea of baseball is even bigger. American novelists have a ...

One Enchanted Evening

J. RobertLennon: 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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... Though it presents itself as an American Civil War picaresque (the opening line is: ‘Thomas Jefferson Woodhull was 11 years old when he ran away from home to join the Union army’), it gradually turns into a sort of steampunk horror story, featuring the reanimation of corpses and characters with names like The ...

I’ll have to kill you

J. RobertLennon: ‘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, its import barely registers on Matthew, the book’s protagonist and the perpetrator of the crime ...

‘Hell, yes’

J. RobertLennon: 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 ...

Steaming like a Pie

Theo Tait: ‘Going Postal’

4 December 2003
Mailman 
by J. RobertLennon.
Granta, 483 pp., £15.99, October 2003, 1 86207 625 1
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... Potentially violent employees are watched and treated carefully (a fair number of ex-military join the USPS). Being a ‘postal carrier’, to use the current term, is one of the most sought-after blue-collar jobs in America, secure and relatively well-paid. Postal employees are no more likely to be assaulted by their ...

The Jump-out Boys

J. RobertLennon: 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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... On a summer morning in July 1999, a massive drug bust took place in the Texas panhandle town of Tulia. In a few hours, beginning before dawn, the town’s police force, the county sheriff and his deputies, a group of state troopers, and the agents of a special drug task-force had rounded up dozens of men and women, all of whom were accused of selling cocaine – crack and powder – to an undercover operative, a narc, called Tom Coleman ...

Tastes like Cancer

J. RobertLennon: 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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... heavy sweetness that gave way to a wallop of chemical taint. I would drink half a glass of water just to get the flavour out of my mouth, and then, when we went out again, I’d do the same thing. I still go out to eat with my mother and grandmother, but they go for Equal now, or Splenda. Most people do: as sugar substitutes go, Sweet’N Low ...

Via ‘Bret’ via Bret

J. RobertLennon: 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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... Clay, delivers this material in an artful, affectless present-tense monotone: I think I see Julian here, leaving, and I get up from the table and go to the bar and then outside and it’s raining hard and I can hear Duran Duran from inside and a girl I don’t know passes by and says, ‘Hi,’ and I nod and then go to the restroom and lock the door and ...

Deny and Imply

J. RobertLennon: 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 ...

Father of the Light Bulb

J. RobertLennon: 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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... edited by Dan Wakefield, a lifelong friend of Vonnegut’s and the editor of his letters, and by Jerome Klinkowitz, a scholar of Vonnegut’s work, this book collects definitive versions of all the stories he published in his lifetime, a number of posthumously collected stories, and five never before published, making a total of 97: ‘the short ...

Scary Dad

J. RobertLennon

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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... 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 paragraph describes two very different first novels, one by an American man whose protagonist is a ...

Gloriously Fucked

J. RobertLennon: 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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... 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 there on, the book is divided into eight long chapters, and each chapter into four interleaved subchapters. Each subchapter ...

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