J. Robert Lennon

J. Robert Lennon’s Subdivision, a novel, and Let Me Think, a story collection, are out now.

I was trying to find the edge: Cusk-alike

J. Robert Lennon, 3 June 2021

At the beginning​ of Second Place, the narrator recalls a time in her life when imagined fears blinded her to real dangers. ‘Why,’ she asks, ‘do we live so painfully in our fictions? Why do we suffer so, from the things we ourselves have invented?’ It’s natural to want to draw parallels between a work of fiction and its author’s life, and to assume that...

Surely, Shirley: Ottessa Moshfegh

J. Robert Lennon, 21 January 2021

About a third​ of the way into Ottessa Moshfegh’s Death in Her Hands, the protagonist, Vesta Gul, walks into a library, fires up a web browser and clicks on a page entitled TOP TIPS FOR MYSTERY WRITERS. The rules she scrolls past – ‘create a three-dimensional world’, offer ‘a clear and convincing motive’, ‘try to surprise the reader at the end, but...

When​ I was 13, one of the things I liked best about Stephen King – my hero and bête noire, godfather of my literary children, internet mensch, unstoppable retirement-proof zombie of letters – is the fact that you could turn to the end of any of his story collections and learn, in an amiable afterword, how he got his ideas. King explains how each story came to be, generally...

Little Grey Cells: More Marple than Poirot

J. Robert Lennon, 5 March 2020

KateAtkinsons 12th book, her fifth starring the detective Jackson Brodie, opens with our hero making some kind of escape with a young bride. She tosses her veil and bouquet onto the back seat of Brodie’s car, and they ride off into the sunset. Brodie glances at his companion: ‘He noticed she was cupping the bowl of her belly, where she was incubating an as yet invisible...

Scary Dad

J. Robert Lennon, 10 May 2018

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...

Father of the Light Bulb: Kurt Vonnegut

J. Robert Lennon, 22 February 2018

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...

‘Hell, yes’: The Osage Murders

J. Robert Lennon, 5 October 2017

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...

I’ll have to kill you: ‘The Fall Guy’

J. Robert Lennon, 20 April 2017

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...

Gloriously Fucked: Paul Auster’s ‘4321’

J. Robert Lennon, 2 February 2017

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,...

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...

It’s impossible to overstate the extent to which the game of baseball is integrated with American life in general, and its literary scene in particular. The sport’s popularity has wavered – it has occasionally been eclipsed, in market share, by American football and basketball – but its importance as a cultural signifier has never faded. To the mathematically minded, it is a game of statistics; to the outdoorsman, it is pastoral. The gossip sees it as a pageant of personalities, the intellectual uses it to establish working-class cred and the working man philosophises over it.

One Enchanted Evening: Chris Adrian

J. Robert Lennon, 17 November 2011

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...

Deny and Imply: Gary Shteyngart

J. Robert Lennon, 16 December 2010

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...

Via ‘Bret’ via Bret: Bret Easton Ellis

J. Robert Lennon, 24 June 2010

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,...

Tastes like Cancer: the Sweet'N Low dynasty

J. Robert Lennon, 8 March 2007

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....

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. When the operation had finished, 47 Tulians, almost all of them black, found themselves in jail.

From The Blog
17 October 2014

A few years ago, a colleague in the English department told me she was vexed by her son’s addiction to, and incessant chatter about, a video game. The implication was that his time would be better spent reading. I asked what the game was. ‘Braid,’ she said. ‘Dude,’ I said. ‘You’ve got to play Braid. It’s awesome!’ It wasn’t long ago that many of us in academia regarded video games as little more than the violent and misogynist recreational pursuits of our least attentive students, things that our children should be protected from. But games have matured as an art form in the past decade, and are now among the most vital and quickly evolving cultural phenomena.

From The Blog
10 May 2014

Russell Edson, who died this week, wouldn’t have minded if you hadn’t heard of him. A self-described hermit, he was content to hoe his row outside the public eye and prevailing literary taste, ‘just happy to be writing’, as he told Mark Tursi in 2004. Best known as a prose poet, Edson also wrote plays and novels, and often illustrated his own work. But he came to my attention, in the early 1990s, via a cassette tape: a friend’s copy of A Performance at Hog Theatre, a recording of a 1979 public reading in Amherst, MA. In his precise, wry baritone, Edson recites a few dozen poems to a small, attentive audience, playing against the crowd’s uncertainty: is this poem funny? Or is it serious? Should we laugh? (They should, and do.)

From The Blog
23 July 2010

I have to admit that I felt deeply irritated by the website for Bret Easton Ellis's novel Imperial Bedrooms, by its very existence. (It's a casting-couch choose-your-own-adventure game.) If you listen closely, you can hear every exhausted literary writer in American saying, very quietly to themselves: 'So this is how it's gonna be now? I have to code my own flash game?' One half expects to find action figures of the novel's characters at Wal-Mart. But of course then I played the thing and, like most people, I'd imagine, immediately started trying to get the actress high, naked and into bed.

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...

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In 1945, Somerset Maugham contributed a list to Redbook magazine of what were, in his opinion, ‘the ten best novels in the world’. Maugham’s choices were neither surprising nor...

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In 1986, a postal employee in Edmond, Oklahoma ran amok with a gun, shooting 14 co-workers dead and wounding six others before killing himself. Nearly twenty similar incidents occurred at...

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