three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
14-Jan-Feb-2005
user_rating: 
0

A-MenCartoonsIn these nine surrealist/SF tales, Lethem introduces a host of disappointed and disillusioned men. The characters thrum with loneliness, betrayal, and angst in slightly off-kilter settings. "Super Goat Man" follows the down-on-his-luck superhero next door. In "Access Fantasy," the rich live in apartments behind the One-Way Permeable Barrier, while the poor camp in their cars. And the Pushcart Prize-winning story, "The Dystopianist, Thinking of His Rival, Is Interrupted by a Knock on the Door," features suicidal sheep and two rival SF writers.
Doubleday. 176 pages. $19.95. ISBN: 0385512163

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"The most talented and interesting 40-year-old writer working in America today is a guy in Brooklyn, N.Y., named Jonathan Lethem. … It would seem outrageous to me, too, if I hadn’t just read Lethem’s new story collection." Alan Cheuse

Hartford Courant 4 of 5 Stars
"In this new collection, the author’s first after writing six novels, the reader gets to see Lethem’s early sketches and brainstorms." Brendan Sullivan

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"While some of Lethem’s work—like the story ‘The Dystopianist, …’—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. … [Lethem] has the will and the ability to seduce and emotionally engage the reader even as he celebrates the artificiality of narrative conventions."
Jay McInerney

St. Petersburg Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"When Lethem dials W-R-I-T-E-R, readers will happily wonder if Philip K. Dick, Patricia Highsmith or Stan Lee will turn up on the page. … Lethem is most compelling when he sets aside his inner geek and moves through his material in a more personal, intimate manner, when he writes, as he has put it, through instinct and emotion." Mark E. Hayes

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel 3 of 5 Stars
"On its own merits, Men and Cartoons is a strikingly original collection of short stories: imaginative, insightful, witty and sad. For Jonathan Lethem, however, it’s a relatively minor work." Thomas Maresca

San Diego Union-Tribune 2.5 of 5 Stars
"The writer is typically adept at letting palpable human experiences emerge from absurd, fantastical situations. But the stories assembled here feel like they were written long before Lethem found his mojo …." Seth Taylor

Critical Summary

Fans of Lethem will recognize his favorite themes, trademark wit, and verbal dexterity sprinkled throughout this unusual collection. A few critics sense staleness, however. It’s as if these stories were written years ago, and have been sitting in a drawer ever since. In fact, many are old and served as inspiration for Lethem’s novels. Some of the tales are sharp ("The Glasses"), a few are unsurprising ("The Spray"), most are bleak, and a couple of them are stellar examples of the genre. Everyone agrees that "Super Goat Man" is the highlight here. It might be worth reading the rest, or at least picking up the volume, for that one alone.

Also by the Author

Motherless Brooklyn (1999): National Book Critics Circle Award. It’s a new spin on a classic detective story: a Brooklyn private eye has Tourette’s syndrome, and his non sequitur outbursts, barks, and ticks give his narrative what you might call "flair."

The Fortress of Solitude (2003): 3 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2003. Brooklyn is the birthplace of graffiti, hip-hop, and crack. What does a boy have to do to fit in? Become a superhero, of course.