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1 Beaverton Literature- A to Z

Men and Cartoons: Stories

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Men and Cartoons: Stories Cover

 

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

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.

Among them:

  • "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" (Salon).

Review:

"Stylistically varied, inventive, accessible, Lethem's stories offer a fine appetizer for fans hungry for his next big thing." Publishers Weekly

Review:

"No story is less than intelligent, though the author's fans will miss the deeper explorations he makes in his longer works....[P]leasant enough, but newcomers to Lethem would do better to start with Motherless Brooklyn." Kirkus Reviews

Review:

"Funny, strange, and sometimes impenetrable....[T]he stories never feel heavy or particularly dark, the writing is playful, and the narrators are keenly aware of the absurd." Library Journal

Review:

"So is Lethem forging ahead in the mainstream or crossing back to genre ground? In these nine stories, both." Booklist

Review:

"[T]he stories assembled here feel like they were written long before Lethem found his mojo: Most of them end two or three pages before impact, leaving these disappointed and doubting men to evaporate into the atmosphere before finding any sense of finality." San Diego Union-Tribune

Review:

"While some of Lethem's work...seems as glib and tired as the word postmodernism itself, his best novels and stories are elevated by his ability to particularize his artificial landscapes and to humanize their inhabitants." Jay McInerney, The New York Times Book Review

Synopsis:

Lethem's new collection of stories is a feast for his fans and the perfect introduction for new readers — a smorgasbord of fantastic, amusing, poignant tales written in a dizzying variety of styles.

About the Author

Jonathan Lethem is the author of six novels, including the bestsellers The Fortress of Solitude and Motherless Brooklyn, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was named novel of the year by Esquire. His stories and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Esquire, McSweeny's, Tin House, The New York Times, The Paris Review, and a variety of other periodicals and anthologies. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

Shoshana, February 17, 2007 (view all comments by Shoshana)
+ Deft characterizations, deadpan delivery of outlandish premises, fun cover art

- There's not much wrong with it. The last story seems weak as an anchor for the collection.

This is my 4th Lethem and the most delightful short story collection I've read recently. Lethem's focus here is on relationships--with oneself, with others--and the failure of communication. In many of the stories, intrusive encounters and unwitting coincidental meetings (with people previously known and unknown) provide the painful and sometimes humiliating impetus for the conclusion, which is often the narrator's awareness that he has disconnected or failed. This sounds grimmer than the collection actually is. Lethem's environments, as always, are fascinating and deceptively easily established; his dialogue is clever and wry without being offputting; his characters seem genuinely surprised or merely bewildered by their own lives. The conflicts that befall them are emotionally universal, yet at the narrative level bizarre. While none of us is likely to encounter the Sylvia Plath Sheep, we are all too familiar with the existential consequences brought on by that encounter. Even when they behave badly, Lethem's protagonists are likeable schlubs, and familiar schlubs at that.

A unifying theme present in many of these stories is the comicbook superhero, some of whose avatars are more successful than others. In addition, the collection uses minor images and motifs to bridge the stories. Some are thematic similarities ("The Spray" makes missing objects visible, then in "Planet Big Zero" the narrator comments, "so much of life becomes invisible"); others are more like puns (Toscanini's glasses in "Planet Big Zero" foreshadow "The Glasses").

Though I enjoyed the whole collection as a group, "The Spray" and "Big Planet Zero" were my favorites. "The Glasses" is the most poignant, and the only story that seemed to demonstrate the triumph of connection over isolation, albeit subtlely. "The National Anthem" is the anchor story and the weakest in the collection. It seemed too self-conscious and I was not engaged by it. Perhaps it was too reflective in a collection that otherwise used more eventful narratives. Perhaps it would have been more satisfying if it had reprised the comics motif. Whatever the reason, it is unsatisfying, and the only low point in an otherwise fine and sophisticated collection.

The back cover art on the hardback edition is in the form of the ad pages that used to run in comic books (think "X-Ray Spex!"). Some are blurbs about the stories; some are spoofs of ads ("Raise Fun-Loving AQUA CHIMPS/JUST ADD WATER!/Or mustard or vermouth or Drano or whatever. It's never too early to learn how fleeting love can be...."). Be sure to take a look if you buy the paperback edition instead.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780385512169
Author:
Lethem, Jonathan
Publisher:
Random House
Author:
Lethem, Jonathan
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Short Stories (single author)
Copyright:
Publication Date:
November 2004
Binding:
Hardcover
Language:
English
Pages:
176
Dimensions:
8.38x5.84x.67 in. .68 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Science Fiction and Fantasy » A to Z

Men and Cartoons: Stories Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$2.95 In Stock
Product details 176 pages Doubleday Books - English 9780385512169 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Stylistically varied, inventive, accessible, Lethem's stories offer a fine appetizer for fans hungry for his next big thing."
"Review" by , "No story is less than intelligent, though the author's fans will miss the deeper explorations he makes in his longer works....[P]leasant enough, but newcomers to Lethem would do better to start with Motherless Brooklyn."
"Review" by , "Funny, strange, and sometimes impenetrable....[T]he stories never feel heavy or particularly dark, the writing is playful, and the narrators are keenly aware of the absurd."
"Review" by , "So is Lethem forging ahead in the mainstream or crossing back to genre ground? In these nine stories, both."
"Review" by , "[T]he stories assembled here feel like they were written long before Lethem found his mojo: Most of them end two or three pages before impact, leaving these disappointed and doubting men to evaporate into the atmosphere before finding any sense of finality."
"Review" by , "While some of Lethem's work...seems as glib and tired as the word postmodernism itself, his best novels and stories are elevated by his ability to particularize his artificial landscapes and to humanize their inhabitants."
"Synopsis" by , Lethem's new collection of stories is a feast for his fans and the perfect introduction for new readers — a smorgasbord of fantastic, amusing, poignant tales written in a dizzying variety of styles.
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