Jonathan Lethem’s new collection of stories is a feast for his fans and the perfect introduction for new readers—nine fantastic, amusing, poignant tales written in a dizzying variety of styles, as Lethem samples high and low culture to create fictional worlds that are utterly original. Longtime readers will recognize echoes of Lethem’s novels in all these pieces—narrators who can’t stop babbling, hapless would-be detectives, people with unusual powers that do them no good, hot-blooded academics, and characters whose clever repartee masks lovelorn desperation as they negotiate both the stumbling path of romance and the bittersweet obligations of friendship.
“The Vision” is a story about drunken neighborhood parlor games, boys who dress up as superheroes, and the perils of snide curiosity.
“Access Fantasy” is part social satire, part weird detective story. Evoking Lethem’s earliest work, it conjures up a world divided between people who have apartments and people trapped in an endless traffic jam behind The One-Way Permeable Barrier.
“The Spray” is a simple story about how people in love deal with their past. A magical spray is involved.
“Vivian Relf” is a tour de force about loss. A man meets a woman at a party; they’re sure they’ve met before, but they haven’t. As the years progress this strangely haunting encounter comes to define the narrator’s life.
“The Dystopianist, Thinking of His Rival, Is Interrupted by a Knock on the Door” is a Borgesian tale that features suicidal sheep. (This story won a Pushcart Prize when first published in Conjunctions.)
“Super Goat Man” is a savagely funny exposé of the failures of the sixties baby boomers, and of their children.
Sparkling with the off-beat humor and subtle insights, Men and Cartoons is a welcome addition to the shelf of the writer “whose bold imagination and sheer love of words defy all forms and expectations and place him among his country’s foremost novelists.
This is a used copy in very good condition with some light wear to the dust jacket.
By Jonathan Lethem. Hardcover. 160 pages. Published by Doubleday Books, 2004.