three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
42-Sept-Oct-2009
user_rating: 
0

A-CastleThe author of five novels and a collection of flash fiction, J. Robert Lennon is no stranger to quirky psychological studies: in Mailman, he skillfully describes a letter carrier's descent into madness. In Castle, the narrator Eric Loesch is Lennon's most complex character to date.

The Story: After 20 years away, Eric Loesch, a middle-aged former military man, returns to his economically blighted, upstate New York hometown with some baggage. When he buys a fixer-upper on several hundred acres of land and tries to sort things out, the taciturn, rather unlikable Loesch encounters omens-a cry in the night, an albino deer-that threaten to connect his repressed past (whatever that may be) to the present. When he discovers a granite monolith on his property and starts to dig into its origins, that connection becomes inevitable as the truth of Loesch's repressed memories and his homecoming are revealed layer by layer.
Graywolf Press. 224 pages. $22. ISBN: 9781555975227

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"Lennon pulls off a virtuoso performance with this convoluted structure, and like all good thrillers, you can't put it down. Clever and insightful, it compels the reader to solve a series of riddles that reveal the emotional rationale underpinning our most despicable behavior." William J. Cobb

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Lennon's subject is authority, and how it sculpts the psyche. ... This book starts out intriguing; the upstate New York setting-with its narrow, stone-fenced roads twisting into the darkling woods-is perfectly pitched for a tale of anxiety." Emily Carter

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Like two other powerful novels of recent years-James Lasdun's Horned Man and Peter Cameron's Andorra-Castle is told by an egomaniacal, unlikable man with a precarious grasp on reality, especially his own. ... Despite some too-lengthy flashbacks (explaining things most readers have already figured out for themselves), Castle tells a terrific story, dire and confusing and convincing." Scott Bradfield

Seattle Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"With meticulous prose, Lennon has given voice to a main character who is suspicious and not particularly likable, but who nonetheless commands attention. ... Lennon unfortunately tries to address too many issues to be able to bring matters to a tidy conclusion." Bharti Kirchner

Boston Globe 3 of 5 Stars
"At the clichéd, cliff-top climax during a thunderstorm, the novel takes an unfortunate turn, and the reader begins to wonder if Lennon's page-turner/literary fiction crossbreed has veered too far into the territory of cheap commercial thrills. ... Still, Lennon effectively casts an increasingly unsettling shadow of foreboding." Ethan Gilsdorf

Los Angeles Times 2 of 5 Stars
"Though Lennon's spare language fits [his protagonist], it doesn't serve the reader. ... Lennon doesn't seem to know what his story is." Scott Martelle

Critical Summary

When it comes to psychological thrillers, even one like Castle that has literary aspirations, critics invariably judge a book's ability to suspend a reader's disbelief. And why not? While not flawless-the author's plotting and a creaky backstory sometimes get in the way of a compelling character study, and unpredictable twists threw off some reviewers-Lennon's latest novel, a weird mélange of John Fowles and Silence of the Lambs, is worth a look. Pay particular attention to descriptions of landscapes and the evolution of the novel's complex, unreliable narrator, a deeply troubled man who realizes, perhaps too late, that "every human interaction was a psychological experiment."