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Under the Small Lights (Miami University Press Fiction) Paperback – May 17, 2010


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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

Jack wants Corinna, Star wants Jack, Paul wants fast money, Jack and Bill want immortality in art. On a freezing January day Jack and Bill construct elaborate theatricals on the shores of Walden Pond. In burning July, Jack attempts to insinuate himself into the life Corinna's picked with another man, the moneyed town and overgrown garden she was born to, the wealthy poet next door, and the distant world of artistic success. Fireworks misfire. A summer party and a winter confrontation heat into harsh words, violence. Long-held secrets are revealed.

Under the Small Lights is a lyrical take on the lives of lost 20-somethings, lust, and the state of art. Jack, Bill, Star, and Corinna grow up without roadmaps, with dubious role models, and with more pills and gin than they know what to do with. They are actors in search of roles, and they are betrayed in these roles by real life. This is a novel about the doubtful possibility of collective love and the painful experiences which, once having endured them, we wouldn't be without.

About the Author

John Cotter is a founding editor of the online magazine Open Letters Monthly. He was born in Norwich, Connecticut, and lives in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.
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Product Details

  • Series: Miami University Press Fiction
  • Paperback: 194 pages
  • Publisher: Miami University Press (May 17, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1450700918
  • ISBN-13: 978-1450700917
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #916,585 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Cotter's first novel Under the Small Lights appeared in 2010 from Miami University Press. His short fiction and poetry have appeared or will soon appear in Puerto Del Sol, Volt, The Lifted Brow, Lost, and New Genre, among other spots.

A founding editor at the review site Open Letters Monthly, John's published critical work on contemporary novelists, poets, and translators.

John was born in Norwich, Connecticut in 1976, home of Benedict Arnold and a fresh crop of casinos. He graduated Emerson's Creative Writing program on a Performing Arts scholarship and Harvard's Extension School with a master's degree in English & American lit. He lives with his favorite poet in Denver, Colorado.
Say hi at John [at] JohnCotter [dot] net

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Lisa Peet on July 1, 2010
Format: Paperback
I enjoyed this a lot in a deeply subjective way. For me at least, Under the Small Lights was immediately personal, and as well-written as the novel was it didn't have to stretch far to give me a vivid flash of what it was like to be 20, how it wasn't about whether you could get laid--anyone could get laid then whether you knew it or not, because everyone was beautiful--but rather all about being in love: with your lovers and your friends and your emerging self, with all this great literature that you were reading but maybe a bit too young to really get, with all the wonderful forms of medication in the world, and with the sheer possibilities that you weren't always attentive enough to turn into reality.

That was my experience of being 20, anyway, and John Cotter nails it with his cast of slightly aimless, self-involved, but basically decent kids. He takes them from winter through summer with a series of small transformations packed densely as a dwarf star; nothing happens and then everything happens. The action is hazy with drugs, gin and peach fuzz, the dialogue stutteringly realistic, and you come away with the sense of having been witness to a sharp sliver of life that they'll always hold at arm's length.

That was a year I remember as being uncomfortably fraught with longing and excitement in equal parts, and the characters, while not always lovable, are in love with all sorts of things--including but not limited to each other. The book left me feeling a little stoned and wistful, in a good way. Like the moneyed New England beach town where much of the action takes place, 20 is a fine place to visit and a good place not to have to live for too long. Cotter writes with compassion and generosity, and their story rings true.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Tanya on June 8, 2010
Format: Paperback
I haven't felt this wistful since reading Francoise Sagan. I loved Jack's forthright quest for belonging in a sea of akimbo casualness. It took me to a deep summertime.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ampersand Books on April 9, 2011
Format: Paperback
John Cotter has a way with words. He has a way with dialogue, with setting a scene, with crystallizing description and insight into just a handful of words. He has a way of wrapping his observations about lost generations, about the charade of the Bohemian lifestyle, about the fragility of ideals when they crash into immovable objects, into the characters themselves.
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Format: Paperback
The world is full of selfish young men. They can be loud, crass, undeserving, but also sensitive, charming, and winsome. Jack Ahern, the narrator of John Cotter's novel 'Under the Small Lights' is somehow all of these things, making him incredibly accessible, for all his flaws remind the reader of what it is to be young: mainly foolish, but willing to misstep and learn, albeit at his own pace.

Cotter's story brings to mind the tale of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "romantic egoist," Amory Blaine, in his debut novel, 'This Side of Paradise.' Both Amory and Jack recite poetry to impress; they grow through sacrifices made for friends; they drink to embolden themselves; they drink to escape. But there's also a craftsmanship that Cotter shares with Fitzgerald. Both writers used prose, verse, and drama to communicate their stories. Both relied on small, intimate glances to shape the reader's view of a young man on his way to adulthood. Both allowed their counterparts to err, and err deeply.

Jack's attention flies from Corinna--the wife of his friend, Paul--to playwriting to drugs to poetry to fame to hope to recklessness, and back again. He's a kid who believes wholeheartedly in his own hype, who is almost everything he wants to be, and that's close enough to reality to yield inertia. So how could a young man with so many misbegotten ideals withstand an entire novel without growing tired, whiny, or irksome?

With a capable author. Cotter interweaves scenes from the wayward summer of Corinna's and Paul's first year of marriage with snippets from one integral scene from the previous winter. Through this, we watch Jack unfold. He performs as whomever he assumes his friends want him to be in that moment, leading to the reader's full view of his every facet.
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LOVED IT. The prose is beautifully crafted, economic yet captivating in its use of language, the characters young and vivid and true, the story heartfelt and well constructed. Devoured this in one day - the perfect coming-of-age tale to open my summer reading season with.
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