Lucky Alan, Lucky Me!
About Lucky Alan and Other Stories by Jonathan Letham: Jonathan Lethem’s third collection of stories uncovers a father’s nervous breakdown at SeaWorld in “Pending Vegan”; a foundling child rescued from the woods during a blizzard in “Traveler Home”; a political prisoner in a hole in a Brooklyn street in “Procedure in Plain Air”; and a crumbling, haunted “blog” on a seaside cliff in “The Dreaming Jaw, The Salivating Ear.” Each of these locates itself in Lethem-land, which can be discovered only by visiting. As in his celebrated novels, Lethem finds the uncanny lurking in the mundane, the irrational self-defeat seeping through our upstanding pursuits, and the tragic undertow of the absurd world(s) in which we live.
My two cents
I'm finishing off this review with a push from joining in Bout of Books. This review has been in draft, languishing for months! I hope you enjoy this review and consider picking this one up!
What a hodgepodge of a collection! There doesn't seem to be a commonality tying up the nine stories in this collection either in theme or in writing style. The stories swing from extreme to extreme: from the highly realistic to the plain absurd.
I like how these stories can be read metaphorically, provoking and making them fodder for interpretation and feeling entirely up to the reader.
The writing is succinct yet meaty. The subject matter/issues are varied, from the mundane to the bizarre, and Lethem manages to make them quite interesting. There is always a twist somewhere, and most of them come from left field which can make for a pleasant surprise (or for some, I suspect an annoyance). Best of all, Lethem's stories are very creative and rather oddball with a certain wry humour and weirdness that grew on me.
Here are my quick thoughts of each story:
Lucky Alan, the first and title story is a highly realistic depiction of an adult male friendship. Two men who move in the movie watching/directing circles cross paths, become acquaintances, don't see each other for a while, and reconnect once again. This allows them to know each other on another level, and both realize there is more to each other than appears. This is one of my favourite stories a bittersweet recollection of a friendship and is bound to touch a chord with those who have friends they've lost touch with or have friends who make a lasting impression.
The King of Sentences is one of the absurd stories and I felt it was quite experimental. Wow, Lethem loves his words, his complex sentences, and his verbal cartwheels -- written very impressively! This is about a pair of New York bibliophiles who are fanatics of an author they've dubbed as The King of Sentences. One day they decide to pay the "King" a visit and the visit unravels into weirdness. I reasonably liked this as I didn't know where this story was going; but after that build-up with all the writing acrobatics, I felt a little let down by the mundaneness of the conclusion.
Traveler Home is about how a man living in the remote countryside discovers and rescues a sleeping baby in the middle of the woods after a huge blizzard. Whose child it it? Why was it left? Such a strange tale. This opens reading more like poetry to me with its rhythm, its short sentences, and its straightforward writing.
Procedure in Plain Air is absurdity to the extreme and is among my favourites. It made me laugh and I actually imagined the author laughing while writing this because it's so ridiculous that it's funny. Someone outside a coffee shop witnesses the dumping of a bound man into a manhole and held prisoner there. Shockingly, no one else notices, or seems to care, save this one person.
Their Back Pages is a tragic-comic story about has-been, retired comic characters unhappily marooned on an island when their plane crashes. I enjoyed how I could picture the narrative taking shape visually as a comic strip -- as the characters recall their heydays, and make do in their current predicament.
The Porn Critic is about Kromer, a young man who has defaulted into the enviable-slash-much-speculated job of reviewing porn to up business at the adult video rental store he works. One day, with his long-time friend with benefits Greta, he brings back two female friends acquaintances to his apartment filled to the rafters with porn. With the combination of joints and hormones, the night turns into something quite unusual.
The Empty Room is about a family who has designated that one room in their house be maintained empty. The family uses it over the years, using it and emptying it and creating memories. The siblings return one day and revisit the empty room ... and realize just how much the room has been witness to, in the past and into the future.
The Dreaming Jaw, The Salivating Ear is a story about a blog owner who "kills" off a troll. I found this piece quite entrancing, being a blog owner I can relate to the feelings described when your lovely little place is defamed. If you're curious, lucky you, you can read this online at Harper.
Pending Vegan follows a father experiencing a meltdown during a trip with his family to SeaWorld. Everything becomes coloured by withdrawal symptoms getting off his anti-depressants and SeaWorld takes on a sharp surrealness.
Verdict: This is the first I've heard of and read any of Jonathan Lethem's work and it seems he is quite well-known for his short stories. Since I really enjoyed this collection as they are unlike any I've ever read, I am eager to look up his other work!
I received a copy from the publisher for honest review consideration.