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.
Devoted fans of Lethem will recognize familiar themes: the anxiety of influence taken to reductio ad absurdum in “The King of Sentences”; a hapless, horny outsider summoning bravado in “The Porn Critic”; characters from forgotten comics stranded on a desert island in “Their Back Pages.” As always in Lethem, humor and poignancy work in harmony, humans strive desperately for connection, words find themselves misaligned to deeds, and the sentences are glorious.
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