by Jonathon Lethem
Jonathan Lethem stretches new literary muscles in this scintillating new collection of stories. Some of these tales—such as "Pending Vegan," which wonderfully captures a parental ache and anguish during a family visit to an aquatic theme park—are, in Lethem's words, "obedient (at least outwardly) to realism." Others, like "The Dreaming Jaw, The Salivating Ear,", which deftly and hilariously captures the solipsism of blog culture, feature "the uncanny and surreal elements that still sometimes erupt in my short stories."
The tension between these two approaches, and the way they inform each other, increase the reader's surprise and delight as one realizes how cleverly Lethem is playing with form. Devoted fans of Lethem will recognize familiar themes and tropes—the anxiety of influence pushed to reduction ad absurdum in "The King of Sentences"; a hapless outsider trying to summon up bravado in "The Porn Critic;" characters from the comics stranded on a desert island; the necessity and the impossibility of action against authority in "Procedure in Plain Air."
As always, Lethem's work, humor, and poignancy work in harmony; people strive desperately for connection through words and often misdirect deeds; and the sentences are glorious.
Lucky Alan --
The king of sentences --
Traveler home --
Procedure in plain air --
Their back pages --
The porn critic --
The empty room --
The dreaming jaw, the salivating ear --