“Cotter’s novella demonstrates a maturity that is beyond the characters who populate it. He writes with insight, nuance, and respect for the complexity of these young people’s lives. The prose is lyrical and lucid; the scenes are powerful and vivid.” — Grace Talusan, The Rumpus
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.
“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
“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 … Cotter treats these themes with a rare intelligence and subtlety and a certain warmth for these characters who are charming and contemptible by turns. John Cotter is going to be a writer to remember, and this is a great book. You should read it.” —Jason Cook, Creative Loafing
“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
“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
One of the strongest aspects of the novella is Cotter’s ease with natural-sounding dialogue, which sparks, shambles, and darts along – the rhythm of you and your friends goofing on each other … the book also has the substantial advantage of having a great atmospheric beginning, excellent action-packed climax, and a poignant ending. Under the Small Lights is a very good read —Dan Magers, New Pages
A wonderful book. —Sam Sacks
The book moves through a series of scenes that surface like memories, wandering the way our attention spans and affections will, from friend to friend until our rash decisions blast everything away, or until we have to make new friends or risk the inevitable outcome that accompanies emulating/lusting after/emphatically loving your friends …What might otherwise be construed as a group of selfish kids is instead a group of self-aware kids, who are easier to relate to and easier to love. —Carissa Halston, Lit Pub