For the Left Hand
by J Robert Lennon
J Robert Lennon is the
author of four novels
and The Light of
Falling Stars. His stories have appeared in McSweeney's, the Paris Review, Granta, Harper's,
and the New Yorker.
He lives in Ithaca, New York, with his wife and two sons.
J Robert Lennon
"When I was two, I
wandered away. My mother was washing dishes in the kitchen and watching
me through the window, and in the glare of the setting sun mistook a
bucket upturned on a mound in the sandbox for my body, hunched over in
concentration. When the telephone rang and the police said they had me,
my mother laughed and told them I was home, playing in the sandbox."
Reviewed by Daniela I Norris
I started enjoying short-short stories, what is now known as Flash
Fiction or "vignettes", only recently. The difference between reading a
story and then stopping to think about it, rather than cruising through
a novel, is not unlike the difference between white-water rafting and
paddling down the river in a canoe. Anyone who has ever gone
white-water rafting knows that it can be a very bumpy ride, but
nevertheless, it has some very exciting moments.
Robert Lennon's collection of 100 anecdotes, as he calls them,
illustrates this very well.
These very short stories are like snapshots of life that have a deeper
meaning than the tale or the action in it. They help us see the world
around us in a different way; they oblige us to stop and reconsider.
a bend in a winding country road outside town, there once lived a
family whose only child, a girl, was born deaf. When the girl grew old
enough to play outside on her own, the family had the county erect a
yellow sign near the house which read DEAF CHILD AREA. The idea was
that motorists would drive more slowly, knowing that a nearby child
could not hear their approach. By the time I was a boy, the deaf child
had become a teenager, and after a while left town for college." (from Deaf Child Area).
How this sign affects the author's life is then told in brief, accurate
sketches that waste no words.
Robert Lennon trusts his readers. He trusts that they are intelligent,
and uses no subtitles for the hard of thinking. He lets us interpret
his tales however we see fit, in such a way that they may have some
influence on our own understanding of the world around us.
got rid of our old car and immediately regretted our decision. It
wasn't that our new car was unsatisfactory; in fact it ran more
smoothly and reliably than the old one ever had, even when it was new.
But the old car acquired a 'personality' assembled from memories of our
lives during the time we owned it, and we found that we missed it
deeply, as we would a favorite cousin who had died or moved away. A few
months after selling the car, we saw it in the parking lot of a
restaurant in a nearby town. Our initial reaction was to deny that it
was our old car, as the restaurant was on a decidedly inferior quality
and, obviously, a place our car would never go." (from Ex-Car).
There are no earth-shattering realizations in Pieces for the Left Hand.
No moments of life-and-death, no pretentious interpretations of human
nature or behavior. There are just 100 instances that could happen to
anyone, might happen to anyone, and have possibly happened to the
author (although there is no claim that such an assumption is true, and
no guarantee) who, coincidentally, is observant and sensitive enough to
notice that they actually occurred.
"A café opened in our town
which specialized in unusual gourmet coffees from estates throughout
Central and South America, Africa, India and the Pacific Islands. The
entrepreneurs who ran the café hired a grizzled adventurer and
self-proclaimed coffee expert, whose job was to fly once a year to the
oldest and most remote estates, and gather the coffees that would be
offered at the café for the rest of the year.
are only several excerpts, and there are dozens of others which may act
as rapids and carry the reader into a place in their mind which they
rarely visit. Embarking on the journey of reading these short-short
stories is worthwhile. They will entertain, they will intrigue, and
they will transport you to places that you may have forgotten existed.
And this is the best reason to leave the proverbial canoe on the river
bank, and start rafting on the white waters of these short tales.
several years into the café's existence, an electrical fire claimed the
rear half of the building it occupied. Though the seating area was
unharmed, the store room was completely consumed, along with all the
coffee the expert has just brought back from his journey to Kenya,
Guatemala and the Oaxaca region of Mexico. For days, the rich smell of
roasting coffee filled the air, and the remaining supply quickly
dwindled to the edge of nothing." (from The Expert).