From the acclaimed author of FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE and MOTHERLESS
BROOKLYN comes this collection of clever, odd, and intelligent
stories. Jonathan Lethem’s MEN AND CARTOONS may be a quick
read (only nine stories and less than 200 pages total), but it is
full of original and thought-provoking tales.
The book opens with "The Vision" and the reader is immediately
plunged into Lethem's world of weird, sad, lonely and still funny
characters. The Vision is a kid the narrator, Joel, knew from
elementary school and who believed himself to be an android comic
book character. Now, years later, the two are next-door neighbors.
The Vision, real name Adam, invites Joel to a dinner party and a
game called "Mafia." The game proves surprisingly interesting for
Joel, and when it ends, he suggests another game called "I Never."
Joel is frustrated by the mysterious adult Adam and wants to learn
more about his life as the Vision, and by the end of the evening
feels compelled to expose him. The game turns tense, almost cruel,
and the party ends with Joel still frustrated and the Vision still
a smug and fascinating mystery.
In this story, as in several others, there is an underlying sense
of tension, obvious frustration and even a bit of danger, although
it is written in a light-handed style. These strange stories are
often funny as well, but the humor is quite dark.
Loss is another central motif in this collection. In "The Spray,"
the shortest in the book, a couple spritzes themselves with magical
spray used by police to inventory stolen objects and finds it works
to show emotional as well as physical loss.
The themes of loss and frustration are taken up in "Vivian Relf."
Here, Doran meets Vivian for the first time, but they seem
uncannily familiar to each other. This moment of familiarity is
amusing to both but forgettable to Vivian. For Doran, however, it
becomes a defining moment and Vivian a symbol of possibility. They
meet several more times over the years, with Doran always feeling
something special and important, but this is never reciprocated by
Despite their quirkiness, these stories are serious. In "Access
Fantasy," a dystopian tale of social inequality and urban traffic
taken to the absurd extreme, a murder is caught on tape and a
hapless would-be detective may lead another victim straight to the
MEN AND CARTOONS is odd, original and tensely funny. Lethem's point
is not always clear in each of the stories, yet they are all
enjoyable to read. Though not as remarkable or memorable as his
novels, these short stories are still well-written and
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 7, 2011