Lange's getting a lot of praise, much of it drawing positive comparisons with Denis Johnson, among others--and I think it's a strong first collection, yet those comparisons dampened my enthusiasm after I got some ways in. I entered expecting some kind of gee-wow reframing of the short story, and instead found a few strong stories and most more modestly competent. Reasonably good for a first round, but...
I liked the sense of frustrated idealism among many of his characters--and he can be very good at detailing the complicated inner lives of first-person narrators, grappling with temptations (rage, booze, crime) and often succumbing. You experience, in particular in the first story (Fuzzyland) and the much-touted "Everything Beautiful Is Far Away," on-a-dime turns of thinking that pop up in a paragraph -- without seeming jarring or shticky, the best of his characters have violent inner lives tempered with real compassion for others. I loved the first story, a brother trying to manage a real revulsion for his sister that coincides with a deep sympathy for her. And I loved how that character's own deep, difficult problems emerge in stray observations, flashes of a past.
But I was as often unsurprised--appreciating the general craft without being much moved. I find myself almost always wandering through story collections with this kind of quality, a couple of knockout punches followed by a lot of repetitive right hooks.
And here's where the comparison to Johnson does such harm: Jesus' Son was like a master-class in disruptive writing, and I never knew where I stood as I read, dazzled and surprised and stunned. Lange is always good. I just found too often that I was mildly appreciative, and too rarely engaged. But this may be a function of my own bad habits/biases [preferring the long-form, or reading these collections too quickly, in one fell swoop than over a more reasonable/reasoned length of time].
Lest this seem too left-handed, it is good. Just not great. I will read whatever Lange does next.