The Least You Need to Know

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Published by: Sarabande Books; First Edition edition
Release Date: January 1, 1996
Pages: 192
ISBN13: 978-0964115132


In this collection of seven stories, Lee Martin’s 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.


Winner of the 1995 Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction, selected by 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

“Martin’s work resists the pull of shiny look-at-me prose. . . . 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.”
—From the Foreword by Amy Bloom

“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) learn . . . is just how easily a life can come apart.”
—The New York Times Book Review

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


When I was a boy, my father cleaned up crime scenes. Murders, suicides: after the police had sorted everything out, he was the one the insurance companies called. “It’s a hell of a thing,” he told me once. “To see what I see. Believe me, Telly. You wouldn’t want to know.”

I was fifteen then, in 1961, and from time to time one of the hoodlums at my school would press me for details, and I would oblige, inventing Police Gazette stories of pulp and gore. My talent for spinning these lies disgusted me, but in those days, I was strictly Varsity Club–I ran track, practiced debate, sat on the student senate–and I used my father’s job to win a hold with a crowd unlike my own. These were the boys who had never abandoned their ducktails and pompadours for the short bristles of crew cuts and flat tops. They were juvenile delinquents, my father said. Their lives, he assured me, would amount to squat.

But that didn’t stop me from envying their sneers and slouches, their motorcycle jackets, the very smell of them–Lucky Strikes and Vitalis. It was the scent of back seats and billiard parlors, of dark worlds I dreamed about, but never dared enter. There were limits, I suspected, to how far someone could travel into danger and come back healthy and whole.