New Books Network

J. Robert Lennon

See You In Paradise

Graywolf Press 2014

New Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in LiteratureNew Books Network December 21, 2015 Phillip Witteveen

J. Robert Lennon is a novelist, actually–better known for his longer work (Mailman, Familiar, Happyland). His most recent book, though, collects his short stories...

J. Robert Lennon is a novelist, actually–better known for his longer work (Mailman, Familiar, Happyland). His most recent book, though, collects his short stories from the past 15 years: See You In Paradise (Graywolf Press, 2014): shorter glimpses into smaller headspaces, offshoots: sundries and etcetera from over a decade of writing fiction. This is sort of a long time, if you think about it. In point of fact, the oldest story in this collection was written circa ’99, maybe 2000. It was typed in amber text on a machine running DOS, in the art museum where its author had been working his first job out of grad school. (It’s “The Accursed Items,” by the way, if you were wondering, like I was.)

Of course, Lennon is a slightly different person from the person he was then. At the museum, he had been rethinking himself as a writer (and a student of writing) outside his big graduate workshop; he’d have to assign his own assignments (in “a school of one”). At the time of our interview, he was a tired professor after finals, with students and workshops of his own. But do the stories read like they were written by different people?

Here’s what I think I’ll say: the stories and characters in this collection certainly exhibit variation (maybe from their longer history, and maybe not); and yet throughout, it feels like there’s a substantial through-line in their tone and perspective and what-is-normal-to-us-as-we-share-this-experience. There is, put in another way, a sense of the same ubiety the jacket copy calls “Lennon’s America” in his albeit varying characters, with their own, idiosyncratic movements through time. And if you were wondering what Lennon’s America is like, I’ll tell you: it’s intriguing. And it’s pretty funny, too.