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

4.8 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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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: 4.9 x 0.7 x 7.9 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: #1,758,973 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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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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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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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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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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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