Last April, when I had a residency at the Ucross Foundation, one of the books in my studio was a copy of The Best American Short Stories 2005, which included eight very short stories by J. Robert Lennon under the title “Eight Pieces for the Left Hand,” which had originally run in Granta 85. The stories were awesome, and I knew I had to get a copy of Pieces for the Left Hand: 100 Anecdotes, which included these eight and (obviously) ninety-two other stories as well. But although Granta Books had brought out the collection in the UK in 2005, no press had published it yet in the United States. I tried to order a copy from Powell’s, but something went wonky at the warehouse; I could have tried amazon.co.uk, I know, but I got scared of currency conversion and the VAT; so in the end I asked my friend Olivia Birdsall (whose first book, Notes on a Near-Life Experience, is out now!), to please, please buy me a copy while she was over in London teaching last summer, which she graciously did.
Pieces for the Left Hand is excellent: the stories are all tightly woven narratives, like the stuff of one hundred darkly and dispassionately funny novels yanked from the archives of some upstate crime blotter or university news bulletin and ruthlessly compressed into the space of a couple pages (a sense of compression echoed in the plot of the story “Brevity,” the last in the book and, I think, my favorite). I wrote Lennon a letter asking if there were any plans for the book to come out in the US; he kindly replied to say that his agent unfortunately had not yet found an American publisher for it. (American publishers! Doesn’t it all too often seem like they’re either gigantic, inbred dinosaurs, blue-blooded and dim, or tiny little mammals facing down a new ice age, successfully foraging for berries at the moment but, in the long run, completely screwed?) But you should read the book if you can get your hands on a copy (The Bookery, an indie bookstore in Ithaca, New York, says that, as of this writing, they have a few copies in stock). And while you’re at it, you should read the blog Lennon and Rhian Ellis are writing these days, Ward Six; and you should watch Lennon’s brief instructional film “How I Write My Novels,” which is available on his Web site or on Google Video. (“Books! Everyone reads them; everyone loves them. And everyone would love to write them!”) I particularly like the credits at the end, thanking The Colony of Wango, among many other marvelous-sounding literary getaways for which I need to track down applications. What kind of new work might I get done, and new books might I discover, at the Binson/Pelham Arts Chateau? I must apply!