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Ageing White Guy Takes Stock of His Life …

J. Robert Lennon: Dave Eggers, 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 obscurity launched dozens of careers and spawned many imitators ...

Little Grey Cells

J. Robert Lennon: More Marple than Poirot, 5 March 2020

Big Sky 
by Kate Atkinson.
Black Swan, 356 pp., £8.99, January, 978 0 552 77666 0
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... Kate​ Atkinson’s 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 baby ...

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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... 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 thinking of as I read Chad Harbach’s highly ...

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 the physical world in favour of the knottier, more intractable challenges of the mind; George Saunders offers comic heroes who fail excellently ...

I’ll have to kill you

J. Robert Lennon: ‘The Fall Guy’, 20 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. Robert Lennon: The Osage Murders, 5 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 on his absorbing, infuriating book about the crimes that helped shape the FBI, how many Americans would be looking to the agency today for salvation from their country’s ongoing political catastrophe ...

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 ...

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 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 Urfeist and Colonel Blood ...

What brand is your printer?

J. Robert Lennon: Stephen King’s Latest, 10 September 2020

If It Bleeds 
by Stephen King.
Hodder, 369 pp., £20, April, 978 1 5293 9153 4
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... 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 in the form of an anecdote that offers little glimpses of his personal life: his wife, Tabitha, and their children, his peaceful and weird rural life in Maine, the books he reads, the cafés he visits, the music he listens to ...

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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... 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 Blakeslee writes, the ‘gangster culture so many of his peers ...

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 to bear, or are trying to convince you they’re supposed to bear, some resemblance to Ellis’s actual life experiences, family members, enemies and friends ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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. 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 ...

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