"Ten of the 15 stories in this collection were previously published in literary journals and anthologies. Lee’s stories are intriguing and highly original, with a bent toward the weird, both in character and worldview. He is a master of voice, portraying the lives of men who are lost, lonely, and disturbed. He also has a penchant for the telling phrase. This line from the title story gives a taste of the narrator’s despair: 'I came from a place of no history to a place where history has no place for me.' His stories display the kind of humor that produces laughs and guilt at the same time. Lee’s chosen techniques are often brilliant. For the story 'Contemporary Country Music,' about a war veteran’s first night home from the war, Lee uses five voices, but all the narration is in the second person, and the result is a tour de force of short fiction writing. The work of a promising author worth watching, this collection belongs in any library with a short-fiction readership."
Ellen Loughran, Booklist
“Reading Lee’s debut collection feels a bit like watching a black-and-white film by Jim Jarmusch. In both cases, down-and-out characters with odd, off-kilter ways of verbalizing their experience are filtered through the lens of a narrator/director who could very well have “something in his eye.”
Sue Russell, Library Journal
“The range of genres is wide, with satires of country music lyrics, Kafkaesque parables about the anxiety of the living to avoid death, and a disturbing dialogue between a murderer in hell and his victim in heaven. . . . Lee is very successful in creating a dream-like, emotionally disconnected state throughout, with intentionally stilted dialogue and plots that tend to revolve around forms of symbolic gestures, physical violence, or sexual deviance.”
“Lee also utilizes a variety of structures that, once encountered, you can’t imagine the story told any other way.”
S. Hope Mills, ForeWord Reviews
“I was drawn to Michael Jeffrey Lee’s line-up of loners and drifters, imperiled children and haunted psychos neither because I want to hang out with these bad boys, nor because I plan to cross the street when I see them coming, but because the invitation to inhabit their minds, to see the world through their eyes, and to watch their often unsettling stories play out in space and time enables Lee to do all sorts of extremely interesting things with consciousness and language.”
I am scared by these stories. But, as Jean Cocteau’s Belle tells her Beast, J’aime avoir peur. I like to be scared. These dark and beautiful tales offer a terrible thrill, a creepy adventure into the land of fairy-tale madmen. In Lee’s world, they’re just some bummed out regular guys, rendered in the most mealy and exquisite prose. I like to be scared by them, by this talent.
"Relevant, startling and irresistible, Michael Lee's own unique brand of black humor makes for an extraordinary experience."
Reading Lee's debut collection feels a bit like watching a black-and-white film by Jim Jarmusch. In both cases, down-and-out characters with odd, off-kilter ways of verbalizing their experience are filtered through the lens of a narrator/director who could very well have "something in his eye." Selected by Francine Prose as the winner of the 2010 Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction, this intriguing set of stories is about as far from McCarthy territory as one could imagine; it's refreshing that such a dissimilar perspective could receive this commendation. Indeed, stories is too generic a term for the work here, which includes "Contemporary Country Music: A Songbook," a series of strangely unmusical song lyrics in which a family melodrama is embedded, and "Five Didactic Tales," for which the all-encompassing moral is "You never know." VERDICT These stories may initially seem to resist emotional engagement, yet the adventurous reader will be unexpectedly moved by their characters, like the lonely 14-year-old boy hoping to be picked up by a truck driver and the dwarf awaiting hurricane rescue from a New Orleans bar, who would really prefer to maintain his perch on the counter.—Sue Russell, Bryn Mawr, PA