Pieces For the Left Hand
 by J Robert Lennon

Graywolf Press
2005, Paperback
First collection

J Robert Lennon is the author of four novels including Mailman 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.

Read an interview with
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.

J. 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.
"At 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.

J. 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.
"We 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.

One morning 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).
These 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.

Read more of J Robert Lennon's stories on JRobertLennon.com

Daniela I Norris is a former diplomat, turned writer. She is the author of numerous award-winning short stories, articles and co-author of the book Crossing Qalandiya, forthcoming from Reportage Press in May 2010. She is Contributing Editor with the Geneva Times and book reviewer on World Radio Switzerland's Bookmark program.

Daniela's other Short Reviews: Lynne Patrick (ed) "Criminal Tendencies"

Dede Crane "The Cult of Quick Repair"

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