How to Get Home: A Novella and Stories
John F. Blair, Publisher
5 x 8
Published in 1996
From the critically acclaimed author of Jewel, Reed's Beach, and A Dream of Old Leaves, comes this collection of short stories that explores the dangers and trials of everyday life. The people in these stories come from working lives, lives where the struggle for home and family is waged daily; lives where an ominous slip of paper on the office desk or a broken glass left lying on the kitchen floor can signal the precariousness of what is held dear.
From diners to waiting rooms to apartment complexes, the characters in How To Get Home struggle with disasters. But these are the quiet disasters of life—lost jobs, divorce, illness, death. And as these characters come face to face with these calamities, and struggle to overcome them, they become real.
The opening novella, "After Leston," reintroduces Jewel Hilburn, the indomitable title character fromJewel. In this poignant story, Jewel must come to terms with the cost of moving her family to California to create a better life for her retarded daughter. In the process, she learns a lesson in love that only her sacrifice could allow her to see.
"How to Get Home" is about Paul, a man just starting a job in a new town. While moving his family into this new environment, Paul is stricken with a mysterious illness. As his world becomes confined to his dark hospital room, he realizes that life continues without him, and he begins to understand that he is not as necessary as he once believed.
In "The Day After Tomorrow," a financially strapped couple decides to check into a local motel to escape an oppressive heat wave. The plan seems to work until a strange desk clerk, a broken air conditioner, and a spoiled romantic interlude in the pool shows them that, perhaps, escape is impossible.
The New York Times Book Review writes that Bret Lott "is a writer with a gift for evoking the small sadnesses of life." The Los Angeles Times says "Lott is one of the most important and imaginative writers in America today," and the Boston Globe states that "Bret Lott writes about the ordinariness of life with . . . delicacy and subtlety." The stories in How To Get Home continue to chart this powerful ground and show this gifted writer at the top of his storytelling form.
“The undercurrents, both numinous and tragic, in the lives of grocery-store clerks, salesmen, janitors and other ordinary folk are revealed in this breathtaking second story collection (after A Dream of Old Leaves) from novelist Lott. Thanks to incisive, empathetic characterization and graceful prose, these 16 stories and one novella of often difficult situations—adultery, job loss, the death of a spouse—exude energy and wisdom. In ‘How to Get Home,’ Paul, a salesman, is in the hospital, felled by a mysterious, life-threatening illness. Lott vivifies the strange details of such an experience: how time loses its coherence as Paul sleeps away entire days and watches soap operas where ‘People lived lives, worked, made love, killed one another, all simultaneously’; how recovery can dislocate a life as surely as sickness. An edgy lyricism inhabits ‘Lights,’ in which a young woman, tired of arguing with her husband, becomes almost transcendently aware of all the lights that surround her, and of their healing effect. In the novella, ‘After Leston,’ Lott reprises Jewel Hilburn, the title character of his novel Jewel, as the Mississippi native makes a life for herself and her retarded daughter in Redondo Beach after the death of her husband. Lott writes intelligent, poignant stories that distill the beautiful and painful truths of the everyday.” —Publishers Weekly
“These stories, culled from everyday life experiences, are not dramatic. Rather, they portray our struggles to survive the quiet challenges of daily existence. Lott's (Reed Beach, LJ 9/1/93) unpretentious characters could be any of us: Paul's self-esteem suffers when he loses his job; Lee and Carol look at houses they cannot afford; Jewel makes sacrifices for her mentally handicapped daughter; a husband realizes the complexities of adultery; a family pet dies; a widower grieves; a salesman ponders the death of an associate, brutally killed ‘on the route’; and a father takes his soon-to-be-driving teenagers to the site of a fatal accident. These ‘down home’ folks work through their lives with smiles, tears, hope and despair.”
“The title story of this new short story collection shows its main character's painful discovery of his place in the world, and as such it serves as a metaphor for a number of the other stories, which depict characters searching for their place in the world, for who they really are. The answers frequently turn, somewhat ironically and with widely varying implications, on the discovery of an unknowability, sometimes between one individual and another. In ‘War Story,’ for example, the narrator tells a part of his own war story that he never tells those who know him; he believes it reveals a self the others cannot therefore know; but this other self remains ‘no one he knew’ either. In ‘After Leston,’ on the other hand, the protagonist is initially resigned to never understanding her mentally handicapped daughter, Brenda Kay, but then finds that apparent distance of understanding a positive, defining one, seeing Brenda Kay as full of interesting surprises, her difference something to be proud of, something that helps define her place, and her mother's.” —Booklist