The Hospital for Bad Poets
Full of cryptic twists, philosophical quandaries, and fabulist turns, the stories in The Hospital for Bad Poets are modern riddles with no easy answers—from a writer who “reconfigures our everyday errors and flaws into deeply affecting fiction” (New York Times).
Lusty and literate, these tales feature characters caught in attenuated realities and flirting with disaster. An alienated young man discovers the meaning of love in the pages of the biology textbook The Conjugal Cyst, and in the arms of two increasingly unavailable older nurses. A mother and son witness a father’s backyard fling with a disturbed neighbor who has pruned a leafy cave out of the dividing hedge. A young couple’s romantic consummation is repeatedly interrupted by the intrusion of a narrator commenting on the phenomenon of eroticism.
Quoting Nietzsche in one story—“In all things, however, you act too familiarly with the spirit, and you have often made wisdom into a poorhouse and a hospital for bad poets”—J. C. Hallman’s hapless everymen ride multiple layers of meaning at once, ransacking the belles lettres, dubious science, and stilted history of the past to corner relevance in the twenty-first century.
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Praise and Prizes
“From the black absurdist mayhem of ‘Autopoiesis’ to the lovely classical prose of ‘Savages,’ J. C. Hallman nails our uneasy merging of fact and fantasy, our ritual longings in a dispirited age. These are beautiful moral tales, dark and inventive like Hawthorne, funny and dreamy like the best of Cheever. The Hospital for Bad Poets is great news for tired times.”
“The most arresting book of short fiction of the year was J.C. Hallman’s The Hospital for Bad Poets, which is both hilarious and thought-provoking in its examination of the lot of the common man in contemporary America and beyond.”
“This is fiction at its weirdest and most wonderful.”
“There’s something decidedly old-fashioned about J. C. Hallman’s stories. At times, he’s formally inventive, but the way he wrestles directly with ideas reminds us of authors like Kafka or Gogol. . . . With stories titled ‘Autopoiesis for the Common Man,’ ‘Epiphenomenon,’ and ‘The History of Riddles,’ Hallman is clearly working in brainy territory. But even when he’s more interested in the concepts than the people, he’s having enough fun for all of us.”
“Hilarious . . . J. C. Hallman’s cast of characters in The Hospital for Bad Poets includes the Average Man, who has a surreal experience at the dentist’s office, an uncle and child who have an unsettling relationship, a woman (or a supernatural something) who makes love in a hedge and residents of a new suburban community that is literally being torn apart by unseen forces.”
“J. C. Hallman’s clever debut collection invites the reader into ordinary homes and heads before dropping sly twists of the surreal to examine contemporary culture. His collection is smart and hip, a safer Sam Lipsyte crossed with early George Saunders.”