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Pieces for the Left Hand
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I have just re-read this by way of preparing myself for J Robert Lennon's 2012 novel, Familiar, which is newly published in the UK. I found that, after six years, I remembered some, but by no means all, of the 100 'anecdotes' and certainly feel the second reading was worthwhile.

One story that I remembered was the very last, in which a novelist is asked by a prospective publisher to cut almost half the number of pages in her new novel. She obliges, but doesn't stop there and cuts more and more until, following rejection even by magazines publishing short stories, she ends up with a seventeen syllable haiku, which for want of a market she hands out free to passers-by in a public park.

Perhaps she should have done as Lennon did with this volume and tried the 'flash fiction' length of 250 to 650 words. Each little story - 'anecdote' describes most of them well - is complete in itself; the scene is set, one or more characters introduced, and the situation in which they operate is described. If a problem to themselves or others, the situation may or may not be resolved and, like many of the best short stories, there is often a surprise in the ending, a twist in the tail. Many of the stories are written in the first person, about situations in which Lennon has himself been involved, and those of us who have been there readily recognise the un-named upstate New York town and university as Ithaca and Cornell, also nearby Lake Cayuga and other features of the locality. Or we think we do - this is after all fiction; Lennon can misrepresent his town, university and his own past deeds and experiences as he likes.

Interestingly, whilst Lennon doesn't hesitate to tell us some (supposedly true) negative things about himself, the first person gives way to second or third when the story has something negative to say about someone identifiably close to the protagonist. Thus, nothing bad is said about Lennon's wife, which is rather sweet really.

It seems unlikely that many readers will take the stories just one at a time - as we might with short stories of the more usual length. So the pieces demand our sustained attention. From the first paragraph of each new story we have to absorb the details of a completely new scenario; there can be none of the lazy coasting along with the same characters and scenery that we might indulge in when turning the page for a new chapter of a longer story.

Despite having now read all the stories twice, I remain uncertain why the book is titled Pieces for the Left Hand. The story entitled Lefties may or may not offer some clue. It's about a professor who was not left-handed, but became so after losing his right arm in an accident.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 14 August 2006
Lennon follows up his excellent 'Mailman' with this oddity, a collection of 100 'anecdotes' apparently jotted down in passing by a nameless resident of some middle american backwater.

Wgat might, in less capable hands, have been a pointlessly pretentious exercise, emetges, thanks to Lennon's skill and wit, as arguably the finest book of the calendar year (2005). Richer inn scope and characterization than most novels, even though the lonegst 'piece' runs for barely three pages, full of gallows humour and eerie coincidences, this confirms Lennon's reputation as one of the most daring - and entertaining - writers around
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2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
The blurb on the back cover...(dazzling stylist - gifted with a manic turn-of-phrase and a splendidly aberrant sense of humour) - Huh??? - boring, pedantic, old-fashioned are the words I jotted down as I was reading about a third way into it. Later, I tried to imagine the sort of person who would write this: possibly a 70-year old man in a waistcoat with a very sober lifestyle and a short back and sides haircut...trying to never forget all the boring trivia of his very boring life!
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