In January 2009, a few months before the release of J. Robert Lennon’s last novel, “Castle,” the author fell victim to a uniquely modern problem. The book — a surreal and disturbing story about a former soldier who sublimates his PTSD into home renovations — popped up on Amazon Vine, a program that enlists top-ranking Amazon customer reviewers to assess the quality of new books.
A full two-thirds were decidedly unimpressed. Readers found Lennon’s mix of psychological realism and formal playfulness off-putting. When the novel was finally published to the acclaim of professional critics, it had already garnered a number of mediocre three-star reviews within the portal of the country’s largest book distributor.