See You In Paradise by J Robert Lennon
|See You In Paradise by J Robert Lennon|
|Category: Short Stories|
|Reviewer: Ed Robson|
|Summary: See You in Paradise is a collection of mildly diverting short stories from an American author who writes about ordinary people in commonplace work and domestic situations, with an element of the absurd or surreal thrown in to each tale.|
|Buy? No||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 288||Date: November 2014|
|Publisher: Serpent's Tail|
Lennon writes with a relaxed, easy style and his characters are instantly recognisable as people from everyday walks of life, without being in any way stereotypical. Many of the people in these stories are dealing with normal frustrations, and Lennon is cleverly detached enough not to make them individuals that you're obviously supposed to root for (the only exception is the industrialist in the eponymous tale, who is an archetypal capitalist fat cat). There are some very clever characterisations – in Weber’s Head, for example, the narrator is a flawed individual whose opinions of his housemate are gradually revealed to be unreliable and unfair. For me, the most unsettling story is No Life, because it portrays a decent couple at the mercy of people more powerful and influential than them. There is no supernatural or bizarre element at work here, just ordinary characters at the mercy of social power.
The trouble I found with these stories is that they're not half as clever as Lennon seems to think they are. He has the sagacity to avoid explaining the more fantastical elements, like the existence of a time portal in someone’s back garden, or the ability to bring people back from the dead – like the film Groundhog Day, the situations work better by simply 'being there'. However, most of the stories start with an intriguing central idea but then peter out, leaving you feeling “is that it”? Of all the book’s weaknesses, this is the most frustrating, because many of the stories feel incomplete, like episodes of The Twilight Zone without the plot twists.
Occasionally, Lennon will produce an enviable turn of phrase – in Flight his narrator says that I had been in Newark to attend my mother’s deathbed, which failed to work out – black humour of the highest calibre. He also has a gift for sympathetically portraying ordinary people with ambitions, frustrations and faults. There is a lovely moment in The Wraith where Lennon describes a couple's sex life: he had always demanded (well, requested really) and she had always submitted: a lifetime’s dynamic in one succinct phrase. This story also offers an interesting rumination on the idea of sadness not being a problem. In general though, his writing is readable but rarely memorable; interesting ideas that don't translate into properly formed stories. In this, the book reminded me of Stephen King, to whom Lennon owes more than a passing debt: the ability of the revived dead to read people’s thoughts in Zombie Dan has already been explored in Pet Sematary, for example. Lennon also suffers in comparison to other writers with a sense of the macabre underneath the everyday: The Accursed Items reads like a footnote to The Devil’s Larder by Jim Crace (who is a genuinely unsettling writer).
See You in Paradise has plenty to recommend it but many of the stories here fall short of being complete articles. Lennon is at his strongest when describing human relationships; unfortunately the more surreal elements prove to be more of a distraction than anything else, and the ineffective resolution of many of the tales left this reader feeling short-changed.
FURTHER READING SUGGESTION:
Familiar - a full length novel from the same author.
You can read more book reviews or buy See You In Paradise by J Robert Lennon at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy See You In Paradise by J Robert Lennon at Amazon.com.
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