I have now read all four works by J. Robert Lennon, and I loved them all. Here’s an author no one seems to have heard of who is, nonetheless, astonishingly good.
Let me briefly mention my first two exposures to him. “The Funnies” is a humorous novel about a man who must take over his father’s “Family Circus”-style comic strip when the old man dies, forcing him to face head-on the fact that the idealized version of the family in the cartoon in no way resembles his real-life dysfunctional family. (For example, his brother, the one Dad never liked, doesn’t even have a counterpart in the strip. All other real-life events were mirrored in the comic, except for the birth and subsequent life of that brother.)
Then I read “Mailman,” about a small-town postman who sometimes keeps people’s letters for himself to read. We wander through his memories and his current, cranky musings, and follow him as he flees the wrath of his supervisors and as his world (and his sanity) slowly crumbles around him. Very funny at times, but extremely poignant, too, and a perfect rendering of small-town life.
And now for the other two books by Lennon:
“The Light of Falling Stars” was his first novel, published in 1997. It begins with a small plane crashing in the woods in Montana. From there it follows several threads: the young married couple who live in the house near those woods, who saw the whole thing, and whose marriage was in trouble; the boyfriend of one of the victims; the ex-wife of one of the victims; and a survivor. Lennon’s writing is rich with metaphors, each of them perfectly worded so as to be exactly evocative. You feel what the characters feel — which in this case means sadness, grief, love and hope. It’s truly a beautiful novel.
“On the Night Plain” is nearly as beautiful. It’s set just after World War II and follows a man who leaves his family’s sheep farm to find himself in the world, only to eventually return and inherit the sheep business with his brother. Like the just-mentioned book, it is highly internal and introspective, again brimming with well-constructed similes and metaphors. You think you could never care about a character who runs a sheep farm, but then you read “On the Night Plain” and you care deeply.