What Lee has written is a subtle novel about how people on the edge of a financial cliff are forced to sacrifice their ambitions ... If Lee dwelled exclusively on the friction between his three main characters, he’d have delivered a thoughtful working-class tale burnished with some Dylanesque wisdom. But Lee also weaves Yadin and Jeanette in a matrix of larger social pressures ... If Lonesome Lies Before Us isn’t the best American novel of the year, it’s one of the most American American novels. It’s intensely concerned with the civic institutions that shape everyday lives, and with who’s affected when they disappear. That’s too much weight for the average country song to bear, but Lee’s novel carries it just fine.
Lee's novel shares some of the character of alt-country music, low-key and trafficking in folks who will never be gold-card members. Deftly, he finds gentle comedy in the town's tiny Unitarian Universalist congregation while also respecting the impulses that brought them together ... While the modest Park would blush if he heard me say this, Lonesome Lies Before Us is also a novel about art, and about what Samuel Beckett called the 'itch to make' even when all of the possible rewards of making have been stripped away.
Fittingly for a novel that centers on a struggling musician’s push to record his latest batch of songs, Lee frames the story so that it unfolds like an album—the chapter titles turned into song titles, annotated with running times that evoke songwriting’s greatest magic: the ability to distill the emotions and experiences of days and years into mere minutes and seconds ... The action develops slowly, plot in service to character, the pacing perhaps a bit too steady. In many ways, the novel itself reflects Yadin’s description of his new music: 'Simple, quiet stuff. No frills, just slow, raw songs' ... Like a beat-up guitar case, Yadin has flaws for all to see. But in Lee’s genuine portrait of struggle and persistence, there’s plenty of magic inside.
Most novelists would let Yadin's sad, soulful tale carry the day and employ Jeanette as a literary backup singer. But for Lee, her life is no less meaningful — or, in a spiritual sense, magnificent — in all its heartbreaks and derailed hopes … The title of the novel, taken from one of Yadin's new songs, has a double meaning. Yadin says it refers to the state of lonesomeness that lies ahead. But in more significant ways, it addresses the ‘lonesome lies’ — the sad, unexceptional mistruths — that can shape people's lives … Like a great album — Parsons' Grievous Angel, let's say — Lonesome Lies Before Us is both a collection of brilliantly realized moments and a work that transcends the sum of its parts. There are no minor observations in this novel, no scenes that don't matter. In the end, the depth of feeling attained by the exceptionally sensitive Lee lingers, inspiring more spins through his songlike prose. A novel more full of life, musical and other, is hard to imagine.
Mr. Lee plucks familiar chords with a sure hand, glancing on themes of grief, jealousy and second chances ... But what really stamps this book on the heart is Yadin’s vulnerable spiritual journey from loneliness toward something like grace.
It’s not high drama, but as a sad, sweet portrait of a couple trying to come to terms with their own imperfections, it’s awfully compelling. A forgiving portrayal of the risks inherent in asking what might have been.
...well-written but uninspiring ... Lee writes with stirring eloquence about the regret and longing both characters struggle to master. In too many places, however, the prose descends into knotted, passive phrasings; the use of detail at times suffocates ... The plot builds to a dramatic climax that it then declines to deliver. The unsatisfying ending and awkward writing ultimately undo the initial promise of the novel’s compelling protagonists.