Nebraska Center for Writers

Chimney Rock What the Critics Say
About Lee Martin


The Bright Forever
Copyright © 2005
by Lee Martin
Shaye Areheart Books
How to Buy

On an evening like any other, nine-year-old Katie Mackey, daughter of the most affluent family in a small town on the plains of Indiana, sets out on her bicycle to return some library books.
This simple act is at the heart of The Bright Forever, a suspenseful, deeply affecting novel about the choices people make that change their lives forever. Keeping fact, speculation, and contradiction playing off one another as the details unfold, author Lee Martin creates a fast-paced story that is as gripping as it is richly human. His beautiful, clear-eyed prose builds to an extremely nuanced portrayal of the complicated give and take among people struggling to maintain their humanity in the shadow of a loss.
Reminiscent of books such as The Little Friend and The Lovely Bones, but most memorable for its own perceptions and power, The Bright Forever is a compelling and emotional tale about the human need to know even the hardest truth. — from the publisher

With what consummate skill Lee Martin conjures up a small town in the grip of tragedy and how deftly he explores the way in which a casual remark, a brief kiss, a white lie can have the most terrible consequences. The Bright Forever is a remarkable and almost unbearably suspenseful novel. — Margot Livesey the Furniture

Lee Martin's The Bright Forever goes deep into the mystery of being alive on this earth. Written in the clearest prose, working back and forth over its complex story, and told in the dark, desperate, vivid voices of its various speakers, it holds you spellbound to the end, to its final, sad revelations. — Kent Haruf

Like Winesburg, Ohio, The Bright Forever captures, in alternating voices, the individual acts of desperation that lead to a community's sorrow. And, like Sherwood Anderson, Lee Martin is not happy to let guilt reside singularly or simply. This is a morally complex quilt, a page-turner that also insists on the reader's participation in moral contemplation. — Antonya Nelson

I read The Bright Forever in one sitting. I couldn't put it down. Part Mystic River, part Winesburg, Ohio, this harrowing and beautiful book is one of the most powerful novels I've read in years and heralds the breakout of a remarkable talent. — Bret Lott

The Bright Forever will get under your skin with its exquisite psychology and fine-tuned suspense. Lee Martin has created a world of aching beauty and terrible loss. — Jean Thompson

The Bright Forever is ravishing. ... Lee Martin's characters, dear readers, are us — riven and bedeviled, our souls gone grainy and rank, our hearts busted and beating heavily for love. We have Martin to thank for having the moral courage — yes, an old-fashioned but rare virtue — to tell it to us plain. — Lee K Abbott

The halting, harrowing narrative of Martin's second novel (after 2001's Quakertown) draws upon multiple voices to piece together a tragedy with its own slippery backstory. ... Rich details and raw emotion mix as Martin, in engaging the human desire to excavate the truth, underscores its complex, elusive nature. — Publishers Weekly

Martin's novel is hard to put down, as these dark and intertwined lives march inexorably to tragedy. — Booklist

From Our House
Copyright © 2001
by Lee Martin
How to Buy

"Beautifully written improvisations that make up American life," hailed Lorrie Moore upon the publication of Lee Martin's award-winning story collection The Least You Need to Know. Now, Martin's stirring memoir From Our House is also garnering acclaim for its candid and uncomplaining look at a painful but ultimately redemptive coming-of-age.
While Lee Martin was still a baby, his father — once a robust, generous man — lost both hands in a farming accident. Embittered and hardened by the accident, Roy Martin lost his sense of self-worth, his dignity, and more important his faith in God. Lee grew up to know his father only as a harsh, angry man. A sensitive, awkward child, who was unable to perform many of the tasks on the farm his father could no longer do, Lee felt like a constant disappointment. So began a lifelong struggle between father and son, two men as different as night and day. — from the jacket

Lee Martin has written so clearly and so beautifully about fathers and sons: their complex rivalry and affection, their frightening potential for violence against one another, [and] underneath it all the painfully deep, strong current of real love. — Reeve Lindbergh

In his unsentimental yet compassionate depiction of his father ... Lee Martin has created a portrait that lingers in the mind right along with the most enduring characters in literature. — Marly Swick

From Our House is direct and unflinching. I admire Lee Martin's skill in telling the complex truth about his parents-and about himself. This book deserves a great success. — Kent Haruf

These are beautifully written stories of violence, fathers and sons, and the large and small improvisations that make up American life. Martin's is a very impressive first collection. — Lorrie Moore

Lee Martin is one of the undiscovered geniuses of American prose. Nothing prepared me for the power and chill of this magnificent and brave new memoir. — John Dufresne

Every page resonates with a kind of beautiful ache, of memory rescued from anger by Martin's compassion and yes, even wisdom. It is a heartbreakingly redemptive book, one quietly aflame with sorrow and forgiveness. Martin captures the very essence of the family romance and shows us how love — the real stuff, love that is intelligent and muscular and wide-awake — can transform even the most bitter of experiences into something approaching grace. I haven't been this moved by a book in years. — Paul Eggers

What's significant in Lee Martin's finely wrought memoir, From Our House, are the absences in his story. At first glance, the photograph facing the title pages suggests the typical tale. Ah, yes, you think. It's the abusive father versus the wounded, coming-of-age son. Yet, when you examine the scene even more thoroughly, you realize that you've almost missed the point. While the son's eyes are downcast, his posture shy and withdrawn, the father stares straight on into the camera, arms sticking out from the sides of his torso, hooks rather than hands glinting in the light. ... "How easily our bodies become us, our souls bound to the material, to the joy or grief or pain we feel through our skin," Martin writes at the close of the book. From Our House brings us all of the above — the joy, grief and pain of slipping inside someone else's skin. — Chicago Tribune

Martin works to make sense of a stormy southern Illinois boyhood and his angry farmer father. The boy remembered in these pages is sensitive, articulate, and self-scrutinizing, the sort who grows to be a writer. Martin takes full advantage of the opportunities provided by the memoir genre, and the result is a fine book, rich in narrative artistry but also in plain-spoken wisdom and compassion. — Robert Cowser, The Missouri Review

The Least You Need to Know
Copyright © 1996
by Lee Martin
Sarabande Books
How to Buy

I don't know how one judges seven hundred collections of short fiction. Astute readers helped screen out the illegible, the incomprehensible, the ones who mistook this for a nonfiction prize, or even for some other prize-winning event altogether, like recipes. A hundred collections were pretty good. Ten were outstanding. Lee Martin's stuck out like evening's first star. I stopped reading to search and began reading for pleasure, from my first encounter with one of Martin's several, fiercely loving, utterly self-absorbed and self-deceiving fathers to the wonderful, shameful doings and brotherly love in Salktown, in "The Price Is the Price."
Although Lee Martin gracefully acknowledges the influences (by which he means writers "who gave me permission to write about the people I know best") of Bobbie Ann Mason, Richard Ford, Tobias Wolff, and Bernard Malamud, his own distinctive voice has the qualities of his favorite setting: the commonplace and middle-class turned over with a searchlight of want and need to know. Morticians and insurance men, salesmen and farmers; women hoping to make life more beautiful and less pressing with delicate, bewildering hobbies and necessary flirtations; boys who veer from shame to pride, from decency to irredeemable wrongs, in an afternoon; people who do not quite recover, during the time of our acquaintance, but do not give up gracefully.
Lee Martin's world is one of love gone true and astray, of power felt and misused and foolishly courted, and of forgiveness and the exhausting efforts towards happiness we cannot help making. Like rural Illinois and small-town Indiana, the land he comes from and writes about, his work has sudden beauty and a flat ugliness that's close to death, with very little that is merely pretty or trivial between those points.
Martin's work resists the pull of shiny look-at-me prose and nostalgie pour la boue, one the inevitable result of too many competent people being encouraged to show off their tricks and erudition as competitive sport, the other a dead-end mix of too much technique and too little heart. Martin wants to tell the story. He wants us to know everyone and give them a chance, to understand what is happening, even as we are shaking our heads at how appalling, how lame, how stupid, how vulnerable we all are.
I hear that Lee Martin's aunt let him know that she wasn't real happy with what he's done with some of the family stories, and I know, being the kind of man he is, that pains him as much as a good story pleases him. But having come to know Leon Silver and his smooth, hopeful ways and the art of egg blowing and painting, the complex, emotional language of cars and trucks, the irresistible distortions of family myths, I am more than happy. I am glad and grateful that he has so much to shape, and move and tell us. — Amy Bloom

Together, the pieces make for a hauntingly coherent first collection, often about pitiful family scenarios in which loyalties are tested, lies offered and exposed, and in which ironies abound....Bleak midwestern landscapes well serve many of these stark and solid narratives. — Kirkus Reviews

Throughout the book, Martin's writing is sensitive and lucid....The characters he writes about are utterly real...their concerns and joys are perfectly identifiable and voiced with passion. — Publishers Weekly

Most of the stories in this debut collection revolve around the relationship between teen-age sons and their fathers in the Midwest of the 1950s and 60s. Although Lee Martin favors endings in which the young protagonist's world is shattered by a selfish paternal act, he manages to infuse each of these similar situations with its own particular twist....What (his characters) just how easily a life can come apart. — New York Times Book Review

Lee Martin explores loss of innocence and the harsh truths of growing up and growing old. His characters are funny, tragic, often weak and heartbreakingly human. — Blue Moon Review

The Least You Need to Know is Lee Martin's first book, and a strange and familiar one it is. There must be a thousand stories...about the relations of fathers and sons: the hokiest of themes, covered since Telemachus went in search of Odysseus....Martin's real, and promising, gift is to turn this cliché back into the urgent, intensely personal myth of growth it really is, and always has been. — San Jose Mercury News

Martin's stories are solidly crafted, imaginative, and stoically compassionate. — BookLovers

Martin succeeds with his own portraits, with his own skill for precise and intricate detail....[t]he most exciting moments in Martin's writing come not from the dramatic tension, but from the swift, tender details that give these characters their humanity and make them more than just figures of tragedy....Despite the characters' failings, Martin does not judge or condemn them; instead he handles his characters as the undertaker in "Light Opera" handles his mourners: "Eyes straight ahead," the undertaker advises his son, "Don't embarrass them. Don't let hem know how precious they are in their grief." — Sonora Review

Copyright © 2002
by Lee Martin
EP Dutton
How to Buy

In Quakertown, Lee Martin's eagerly awaited first novel, Martin travels back to 1920s Texas to tell the story of a flourishing black community that was segregated from its white brethren — and of the remarkable gardener who was asked to do the unimaginable.
Based on the true story of a shameful episode in north Texas's history, Quakertown draws on the rich texture of the South — the Pecan Creek running along the edges of Quakertown, the remarkable and rare white lilac, and the rising tensions marking each nod and greeting. With strength and a deep wisdom of heart Martin carves out the delicate story of two families — one white and one black — and the child whose birth brought a gift of forgiveness. — from the jacket

Set in the neighborhood of Quakertown in a north Texas city in the 1920s, Martin's first novel ... perfectly captures the quiet cicada hum of everyday life in a sleepy Southern community as well as the racial tension simmering beneath the surface. ... his gently melancholy style strikes a fine balance between literary fiction and accessible, emotion-driven storytelling. — Publishers Weekly

Martin captures the essence of the town and of social movements within its communities, which encompass followers of Marcus Garvey's return-to-Africa campaigns, fierce race separatists, those interested in keeping things how they've always been, and white industrialists who loved black women in their youth. Based on a genuine historical event, Martin's novel beautifully portrays an ugly time in a town's — and the nation's — history. — Booklist

In his richly dramatic re-imagining of the events behind Quakertown's demise, Lee Martin has written one of the finest novels of the year. — Washington Post Book World

Lyrical and precise. — Fort Worth Star-Telegraph

Quakertown deserves a wide audience ... beautifully wrought, it tells an important story. — Portland Oregonian

Turning Bones
Copyright © 2003
by Lee Martin
U of Nebraska P
How to Buy

Farmers and pragmatists, hardworking people who made their way west from Kentucky through Ohio and Indiana to settle at last in southern Illinois, Lee Martin's ancestors left no diaries or journals or letters; apart from the birth certificates and gravestones that marked their comings and goings, they left little written record of their lives. So when Lee, the last living Martin, inherited his great-grandfather's eighty acres and needed to know what had brought his family to this pass and this point, he had only the barest of public records — and the stirrings of his imagination — to connect him to his past, and to his beginnings. Turning Bones is the remarkable story brought to life by this collaboration of personal history and fiction. It is the moving account of a family's migration over two hundred years and through six generations, imagined, reconstructed, and made to speak to the author, and to readers, of a lost world. A recovery of the missing, Turning Bones is also one man's story of love and compromise as he separates himself from his family's agrarian history, fully knowing by book's end what such a journey has cost. — from the publisher

[A] lyrical, imaginative work. ... [T]his ambitious work weaves together many strong, intriguing people, brought together by a skillful writer for a family reunion across time. — Publishers Weekly.

Like the celebrants in Madagascar who practice the ‘turning of bones' ritual — dancing with their ancestors' corpses — Lee Martin unearths his ancestors' stories and places them alongside his own, creating a dance of power and grace. Turning Bones is a skillful blending of lyrical prose, painstaking research, and well-wrought fiction that calls up the dead and wakes us, the living, into a freshly imagined world. — Rebecca McClanahan

A beautiful intertwining of memoir and personal historical fiction. In a thoughtful, contemplative way, Martin works like his own private detective to make sense of his family and his place in the larger world. — Mary Swander

Lee Martin animates his family tree with a variety and vibrancy of stunning prose engines. Rarely are story and history so effortlessly and enjoyably entwined. Rarer still is this hybrid fruit of the said intersection. Turning Bones is a miraculous and many-splendored invention. — Michael Martone

Turning Bones epitomizes creative nonfiction at its best, fusing the deep, seasonal rhythms of lyric poetry and a believable story which, like a great novel, brings wisdom and tears. — Jonathan Holden

Martin brings his forebears to life with affection and empathy, brilliantly interweaving their stories with his own, and leaving us with a greater appreciation that our lives are but a series of intersecting tales, ones that, with luck, we add to and continue to tell. — Kathleen Finneran

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