Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Lucky Alan and Other Stories by Jonathan Lethem (2015)

I really want to like Jonathan Lethem's stories.  I couldn't get into anything from his 2004 collection Men & Cartoons, and I hoped for better luck with Lucky Alan, from which I heard him read excerpts at the 2015 Festival of Books. Of the nine stories in the collection, I'd only feel the need to recommend two: "Their Back Pages" and "The Porn Critic."  The first is a strange story in which a number of invented pre-golden age comic strip characters (a clown, a theater critic, a villain, the king of the phnudges, among others) are stranded on a desert island.  The humor is surprisingly dark, the story is inventive, and it does things I haven't seen before.  The latter is a realistic story of Kromer, a young Manhattanite who gains the reputation of "a Rasputin" or "satyr," eventually becoming the thing he is believed to be.

The problem I have with a lot of Lethem's stories is that, though they often have fascinating imagery, they just feel insincere. They feel like anecdotes that have been told again and again, massaged and perfected, but end up sounding rehearsed.  


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