miami university


Under the Small Lights


John Cotter

2010. ISBN-13: 978-1-4507-0091-7/ISBN-10: 1-4507-0091-8

Under the Small Lights book cover

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Co-winner of the 2009 Miami University Press Novella Contest

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.

Reviews & Such

The Lit Pub reviewed Under the Small Lights on March 28, 2012.

Levi Stahl wrote about Under the Small Lights on his I’ve Been Reading Lately blog on February 13, 2012.

Check out the April 7, 2011 review of Under the Small Lights on Creative Loafing.

Watch the trailer for Under the Small Lights on the author’s website.

The Daily Iowan interviewed John (and Adam Golaski) prior to his Oct. 7 reading at Prairie Lights Books. Check out audio from their reading here.

Read Daniel Green’s 9/27/10 review of Under the Small Lights on The Reading Experience 2.0.

Read the August 2010 review in New Pages.

Under the Small Lights was reviewed in The Rumpus July 19, 2010.

See John Cotter read an excerpt from Under the Small Lights at the Middlesex Lounge in Cambridge, Massachusetts on April 19, 2010.

“John Cotter’s prose is lyric, his images unforgettable, his characters richly complicated. From the first sentence to the last, I was captivated by this story and the characters that call out to the reader with mystery and beauty and terror, like voices in the night. Under the Small Lights is a book to be savored, and John Cotter is an exciting new voice in contemporary fiction.”
—Laura van den Berg, author of What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us

“John Cotter’s Under the Small Lights is the kind of book I always look for and rarely find: a mellow meditation on friendship and romance and the romance of friendship told in prose straightforward and lovely. His characters are urbane and articulate, foolishly impulsive, and heartbreakingly earnest. It’s been a long time since I’ve encountered a bildungsroman this successful, let alone a novella this bighearted.” —Josh Russell, author of Yellow Jack and My Bright Midnight

Under the Small Lights is a kaleidoscopic glimpse at an intense circle of friends as they mix love and obsession in a sort of game of art. John Cotter knows how to write cutting dialogue and create slices of ardent and ambitious lives as they balance on the last edge of youth.”
—Ron Carlson, author of The Signal and other books of fiction

“John Cotter knows his people, their talk, their turf. An auspicious debut by a writer to watch.”
—Janet Peery, National Book Award Finalist for The River Beyond the World

About the Author

Photo of John Cotter

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.