As I read Pendleton’s new book, Museion Annual #1, I impose influences on his work. The excellent “This Story: Free to a Good Home” reads like a newly discovered John Barth story. The clever “I’m Not Phil” has the playfulness of John Gardner’s work. And the sharp “The Boy in the Drive” has the gravity of something Cormac McCarthy would do if he’d be willing to use semi-colons. And yet, the more I consider his stories, the more I realize how distinctive they really are. Pendleton’s writing is, in fact, original and daring, and is representative of everything that makes storytelling certain and paramount in these uncertain times.
Pendleton has a knack for exploring narrators who specialize in misinterpreting reality. In “Peace, Love and the State of the Economy”, the clueless narrator attempts to discern hidden symbols in the actions of the woman who aggressively shoots down his advances. In “The Madness of Kent George”, the narrator is so overwhelmed by a family with psychotic eccentricities that she cannot process sanity when she sees it. And in “Sleeping Handsome”, the pitiful narrator only has the tools to interpret abuse as love. Bordering and often crossing the threshold of the surreal, Pendleton’s stories force his readers – like his narrators – to disregard reality in order to see it in a different light. His ability to throw readers into these new realities, allow them to explore the scenery and emotion, and then gently pull them out reveals a level of restraint and discipline rarely seen these days – readers won’t only be amazed at his technique, but that he did it in so few words.
These stories are wonderful, and it’s a shame that the arrival of this modest package (I love how N. Pendleton’s name can only be found on the last page of the book) which contains some of the best fiction you’ll read this year isn’t considered an event in publishing. And at $10, it really is a steal.
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing a lot of good writers in my life, but Pendleton is the real deal, one of the few who continues to impress me by constantly pushing himself into new territory. A journey that makes his writing more remarkable the farther out he gets.
And lucky for us readers, we get to reap the benefits.