Pieces for the Left Hand, by J. Robert Lennon (2005)

This collection of short stories by J. Robert Lennon, all told in the first person plural, centre around the lives of a couple in an unnamed upstate New York town (presumably based on Ithaca, NY, where he now lives). Lennon has also written several novels, although the only one I’ve read is Happyland, mostly because it was serialized in Harper’s after his publishing deal fell through. I had forgotten the author’s name, but the voice was unmistakably the same.

The 50-odd stories vary in length from one to four pages. I’ll give you one example, the closing story in the book: a writer of the narrators’ acquaintance has written her magnum opus, a 1000 page novel about the residents of a small upstate New York town. She’s told that the book is well written but will need to be cut in half before it can be published. After agonizing over which sentences to shorten or leave out completely, the writer succeeds in paring her book down to the required length, but then compulsively continues until the entire novel is reduced to a haiku:

Tiny Upstate town

Undergoes many changes

Nonetheless endures

A fine poem, perhaps, but who gets a publishing contract for a single haiku? So the writer proceeds to publish it on small index cards and spends her days in the town park, attempting to hand a copy to everyone she meets. The narrator closes by telling us that he has one of these cards pinned above his desk, dirty from so many repeated offerings, which he regards from time to time with reverence and awe. Lennon clearly also hopes that we readers will accept the brief offerings in this collection with respect, and several of them deserve it, if only for a moment.