Thursday, October 30, 2014

Book Review: "Lucky Alan: And Other Stories" by Jonathan Lethem

Full disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

For someone who once unequivocally refused to read short stories because I convinced myself that rather than invest myself in characters and plots that end quickly, my time was better spent reading full-length novels (such foolishness), I've more than made up for lost time over the last few years. And as any fan of the short story knows, the richness of characterization and storytelling can actually be intensified in shorter form.

While I tend to read many different types of genres, I usually like my short stories to be reasonably straightforward. I don't necessarily need realism or linear structure, but I don't like to have to struggle to wonder what a story means, or what an author is trying to say. (Yeah, I'm opinionated that way.)

This quirk of mine may be one of the reasons that a number of the stories in Jonathan Lethem's new collection Lucky Alan: And Other Stories didn't quite click for me. I think Lethem is a terrific writer, and I've read several of his books, but again, I've tended to enjoy those which hewed to a more traditional narrative better than those which were a little dreamier or more surreal.

The characters in these stories are quirky, and the situations they find themselves in are often tremendously unique. Some of those I really enjoyed included "The Porn Critic," in which a young man tries to overcome the perceptions people have about him because of his job; "The Empty Room," which dealt with the craziness that results when a somewhat dysfunctional family moves to a house much larger than they know what to do with; "Procedure in Plain Air," in which a man unwittingly becomes a player in a situation he doesn't quite understand; the title story, which chronicles the narrator's friendship with a quirky, formerly legendary film director, and the dynamics of that man's relationship with a neighbor; and my favorite, "Pending Vegan," in which a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown has the bad idea to take his wife and young daughters on a trip to Sea World.

If you're a fan of stories that don't quite follow the traditional path, this is definitely a collection you should pick up. Lethem is a tremendously talented storyteller, with a voice all his own.

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