Sunshine and Desperation…

Author:  J. Robert Lennon

see you in paradise cover (183x275)While I think about books a lot, I don’t often pay much attention to the world of publishing.  But lately, I’ve increasingly come across books from Graywolf Press , a Minneapolis based non-profit publisher that seems to have an award winning book or two on every best of 2014 book list I’ve come across this winter.  I’ve previously reviewed works by the magical essayist Eula Biss and the Pulitzer winning poetess Tracy K. Smith, but this time I’ve selected See You in Paradise, a collection of short stories by J. Robert Lennon that handily lives up to Graywolf’s high standards.

A compilation of fourteen enchantingly weird stories, Lennon’s characters are ordinary people living mundane lives who go on to fall victim to an ironic strain of the supernatural that’s equal parts whimsy and malevolence.  Highlights include a family who discovers a portal to other universes in their backyard, an old high school friend who’s brought back to life, a couple who try to survive a hurricane at the restaurant from hell and lonely loser who falls prey to a terrible roommate.

Lennon seems to take a bit of sadistic pleasure in creating worlds where he can gently tease his unfortunate and helpless victims, catching them completely unaware.  But there’s more here than just comedy or farce, as the author makes it easy to sympathize with these emotionally wounded individuals who are just trying to survive in the modern world.  Repeatedly, Lennon successfully balances both poignancy and preposterousness, making for a consistently remarkable reading experience.

A collection of skillfully crafted stories about everyday modern struggles – relationships, loneliness, divorce – infused with a healthy dose of magic, humor and desperation, See You in Paradise is another great title from Graywolf Press.  I can enthusiastically recommend it for anyone who enjoys clever fiction with a penchant for peculiarity.

— D. Driftless

Reviews of other works from Graywolf Press:

Notes from No Man’s Land   /   On Immunity   /   Life on Mars

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