Men and Cartoons
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Men and Cartoons

3.44 of 5 stars 3.44  ·  rating details  ·  2,169 ratings  ·  183 reviews
A boozy ex-military captain trapped in a mysterious vessel searches for his runaway son, an aging superhero settles into academia, and a professional "dystopianist" receives a visit from a suicidal sheep. Men and Cartoonscontains eleven fantastical, amusing, and moving stories written in a dizzying array of styles that shows the remarkable range and power of Lethem's visio...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published November 8th 2005 by Vintage (first published January 1st 2002)
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Caris
I can remember, quite vividly, a time in my childhood when I was playing barefoot in my back yard. I was, arms stretched out in front of me, flying back and forth at the base of the porch, wearing my Superman pajamas (complete with cape and all). Without warning, I stubbed my toe on a rather large rock protruding from the ground. The pain shot through my body and my eyes involuntarily filled with tears. I looked down at my bloody toe and felt so profoundly stupid. Superman was not supposed to ge...more
Mike
Seemingly out of nowhere, I've been on a big Jonathan Lethem kick the past week or two. I started with his novel Motherless Brooklyn, a overall good read with a few moments of excellence. Next I found an incredible essay he wrote on the subject of plagiarism entitled, "The ecstasy of influence: a plagiarism." This I highly recommend. And so finally, my Lethem kick comes to a close with his collection of short stories: Men and Cartoons. I'm not normally a big fan of short stories; I believe the g...more
Richard
This is my first read of Jonathan Lethem. I heard his story "The Spray" on the NPR show Selected Shorts, and I was rather impressed, so I tracked down this collection. I am not familiar with any of his novels.

What impressed me about "The Spray" when I heard it, and also when I read it, was its easy style--a couple find that their apartment has been robbed, but when the police come, the couple find that they are not sure about what has been taken, so the police spray the apartment with a substan...more
Jeff
This is the second book of Lethem's that I've read. I'm finding that he has an odd sensibility that I like. This is a collection of short stories that hover on the edge of science fiction and Twilight Zone.

From "Access Fantasy", where the have nots are stuck in a world of the perpetual traffic jam and one of the only ways to get out is to be advertising for the "haves", to "The Glasses", a customer comes to a standoff with his optician over his new glasses, to "Interview with the Crab", a send u...more
Laura Neu
I struggled in deciding whether to give this two or three stars. On one hand, Lethem is a brilliant writer and there is much to learn from his technique. This book definitely deserves a much higher rating if based objectively. However, I decided to go for the subject rating. Yes, his writing is excellent. Yes, his stories are very well constructed. However, I just didn't enjoy them at all. That's a strictly preference-based review and probably of no help whatsoever if you're trying to decide whe...more
Bronwen
First book checked out with my brand new Palo Alto library card! I’ve also held library cards for libraries in Galway and Bologna. And gotten considerable use out of them. Getting a library card is one of the settling in things, right along with setting up utilities accounts and finding the nearest grocery store.

Some of these stories verge on fantasy or science fiction, while others are highly realistic. One man describes his interactions with Super Goat Man from youth to maturity. Another write...more
Joseph
A series of experimental short stories featuring a variety of writing styles, unreliable narrators, quirky characters, a mish-mash of bizarre sci-fi elements and an underlying theme regarding comic-book superheros. Some of these stories are better than others, but none is a masterpiece. A quick read and worthwhile for the experimentation alone; odds are there's something in there that'll give you an idea for your own writing.
Joslyn
his style/sensibility doesn't quite sit right with me for some reason, but i did like a few stories more than the rest. and imagine my shock to open it and the first story takes place on the very block where i now live (and sat reading it)!
Nick
Two or three of these stories haunt me, all are memorable.
Matt
So, there's a story about a retired superhero named Super Goat Man. Super Goat Man has round table, wine-and-pot-soaked communals with students at a small New England liberal arts college. Everyone digs the goat man. Our narrator knew him as a kid and then meets him again at the college. SGM is part creepy uncle, part cool older brother, but, mostly ... as someone up here mentioned, an icon for the failures of the boomer generation to (a) properly inspire their children, and (b) fulfill the prom...more
Mark
Just finished this collection of short stories, which is the first thing I've read by Jonathan Lethem (other than his excellent essay for the Rolling Stone 100 Greatest Singers of All Time issue (Rolling Stone's editorial approach is blatantly whorish, but even within that context they hit on something now and then).

Speaking of which, this collection was hit and miss. I thoroughly enjoyed and may reread stories such as The Vision, Planet Big Zero and Super Goat Man. The only reason I would rerea...more
Bill
Pretty damn fantastic. This is the first of Lethem's works that I have read, and now I can't wait to sit down with some more. As is inherent with any collection of short stories, there are a few standouts and a few misses, but all in all, I really enjoyed the collection as a whole. It's funny; I don't even remember how it is that I happened to purchase this particular book, and it has sat on my shelf for some months, but now I feel like I should thank whomever it was that brought this collection...more
Brian
"The Vision" - if you're familiar with the game "werewolf" Lethem reworks it (or there's an alternate in here called Mafia).

"Access Fantasy" - normally I like Lethem, but this one had me waiting for it to end.

"The Spray" - didn't do it for me. But it was short.

"Vivian Relf" - really didn't get it. Reminds me a little of that "someday you may wake up to realize that someone else is married to your husband" quote from When Harry Met Sally.

"Planet Big Zero" - Not for me. Too literary, too meanderin...more
Eric
"It's a joke about futility, and at the same time a joke about will, and subjectivity. If we filibustered the glasses into existence between us did it matter that the paper-and-tape glasses didn't persist? Worlds seemed to hang in the balance of that unspoken question, and in a way they did. Our worlds. The glasses stood for our own paper-thin new sensibilities, thrust against the bronze of the adult world. Were we viable? Did we have to convince others, or was it enough just to convince ourselv...more
Belarius
Jan 27, 2008 Belarius rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Super Goat Men
Men And Cartoons is a mishmash of uncomfortably real and uncomfortably speculative short stories that emerge from author Lethem's apparently infinite wellspring of neurosis. the author's highly consistent tone applies itself to a very diverse collection of stories, each stemming from an Interesting Idea.

The best story, without question is The Dystopianist, Thinking Of His Rival Is Interrupted By A Knock On The Door. TDTOHRIIBAKOTD is as screwball as its title suggests, and is delightfully subver...more
John
An Intriguing Blend Of Fictional Styles, But.....

"Men and Cartoons" is an all too brief return visit to the fictional worlds created by Jonathan Lethem in his memorable novels "Motherless Brooklyn" and "Fortress of Solitude", with more than a passing nod to such classic early work from him like his literary debut "Gun, With Occasional Music". Hence it is an interesting, often fascinating, blend of literary styles from quasi-cyberpunk science fiction to hard-boiled noirish detective stories remin...more
Bjorn
Lethem's second short story collection isn't a bad effort at all, but funnily enough (considering how good an essayist he is), I'm not sure the format suits him. Several of the pieces here feel like outtakes from a longer story, that sacrifice the character and thematic developments of a novel but don't quite pack the punch of a great short story. If you've read Fortress of Solitude (and you should) there's really not much new in stories like The Vision or Planet Big Zero, and sci-fi stories lik...more
Andrew
In Jonathan Lethem’s home of Brooklyn, New York, on 5th Avenue, there lives a reassuringly odd, tough-looking store called Brooklyn Superhero Supply. Set, when I first saw it, along a row of graying or graffitied businesses, Superhero Supply (”Ever vigilant, ever true”) features “fully serviced capery, workspace for research and development, and industrial-grade services for superpowers,” whatever those might be.

Superhero Supply (actually a storefront for social work by the publisher/literary ma...more
Andrew
This is really good. The writing is light and easy, and his ideas are fun to chew on. The book really is about men and cartoons: our ideas and the silly-looking but deadly-serious shapes they take, and what we do because of them. The dystopianist story boils it down: our utopias make the real world look dim. From here spins off the resentful power of Everett's awful line ending "Super Goat Man" or the bitter games in "The Vision." The power of cartoony ideas rules the characters in other stories...more
Nate D
Sep 22, 2007 Nate D rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Lethem fans, Lethem curious.
Shelves: stories
Lethem has described his older stories as a sort of condensed novel rather than proper story, trying to take on more story and content than properly fits into a short story-length work. Honestly, that feeling is what makes a lot of his older stories so exciting, and the culminations, the two best of that thread of Lethem's writing, are contained here: a "Access Fantasy", a noir set in a future New York where the underpriveledged live in their cars in a permanent traffic jam, dreaming and watchin...more
Ben
I had heard lots of praise for Lethem, but was sorely disappointed with these short stories. Some of them showed promise early on, or at points throughout, but most were mildly intriguing at best, plodding at worst. Maybe it is simply because I don't 'get' what he was going for in most of them, but on the whole I felt like there wasn't a point, or that the point was too obscure, or that if there were a point it would be silly and annoying. I will say that I enjoyed "Access Fantasy" and "The Nati...more
Gregory Dikis
Like with many collections of short stories, with this book it was hit or miss. I was disappointed by Access Fantasy, being similar to Gun with Occasional Music (I guess?) I thought I would like it more. The rest of the stories were enjoyable, but often forgettable. Looking through the table of contents now, writing my review, I struggled to form strong opinions on many of the stories. The Glasses? The National Anthem? The Vision? Maybe I just don't like definite articles...

The upside is that al...more
Ian
I'm a little conflicted on this, because Lethem's obviously really talented, and has a voice of his own (even if he and Chabon seem to be cut from similar cloths), and I feel this was a good introduction to him for me, but I still wonder if I'm not missing something by reading one his sprawling novels. Also I feel a little scammed in that I got the hardcover at Skylight for 5 bucks and felt really cool, until I saw that the paperback version had two more stories added on, which is like when you...more
Chris
"You wonder to know whether you can stand never to know the touch of a fresh hand, the trembling flavor of a new kiss, and I'm desperately trying to keep from telling you the little I know: it's sweeter than anything, for a moment. For just a moment, there's nothing else. As to all you're weighing it against, your wife and child, I know less than nothing. The wisdom of your ambivalence, the whimsical, faux-jaded wit you share in your letter, as you contemplate the beauties around you, all that p...more
Anne Earney
A good collection of quirky stories with a modern feel. A couple contain characters who either are or consider themselves to be superheros and concern their relations with "normal" people. Another portrays a characters adventures in a dystopian world where some people live in apartments and the rest live in their cars, and there is no crossing over except for hire. In another, the narrator is named "the Dystopianist." One narrator's life is defined by a few chance encounters with a woman he feel...more
Bookmarks Magazine

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

...more
Fred
I'm still not sure what I think about Jonathan Lethem. He's clearly a talented guy, and he draws on some of the same pop-cultural references I do. I feel like his work should resonate with me more, but there is always a refusal in his work to build toward something other than a kind of ellipses. I enjoyed a couple of these stories, was intrigued by several, and make it through the rest. But I'm still wondering what Lethem wants me to think. I'm still wondering what he himself thinks. Maybe he ju...more
Tung
Lethem’s latest, a collection of nine surreal short stories – example, a critique of the Baby Boomer generation with boomers represented as an aging superhero named Super Goat Man (half man, half goat) who becomes a professor at a quaint New England liberal arts college. The bulk of the stories are very good (my favorites are “Vivian Relf” and “The Dystopianist, Thinking of His Rival, Is Interrupted by a Knock on the Door”). The prose isn’t as creative as it was in Motherless Brooklyn, but not a...more
Dan
It's hard not to think that Jonathan Lethem is the dude I'd want to be if I could think bigger-picture. He's got a brilliant way with words (to wit, this line from "The Fortress of Solitude": "Mingus Rude was a world, an exploding bomb of possibilities"). He seems to love the Mets. He has an unshakable commitment to Marvel Comics. He writes about Brooklyn in a way that makes me sad I didn't live there longer as a kid. He's got a real gift for raising "low art forms" like science fiction and pulp...more
Oleg Kagan
These screwy stories introduced us to half-finished protagonists lingering somewhere between the two-dimensional worlds of their cartoonish fixations and adulthood. Lethem is a talented writer (and good reader), able to make me squint at the CD player, shake my head, and smile in the course of a story. I chalk up the abrupt endings and occasional flights of fancy to the same eccentricity that lifts these story out of the mundane. Men and Cartoons are stories whose currency are solidly in the lat...more
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Jonathan Allen Lethem (born February 19, 1964) is an American novelist, essayist and short story writer.

His first novel, Gun, with Occasional Music, a genre work that mixed elements of science fiction and detective fiction, was published in 1994. It was followed by three more science fiction novels. In 1999, Lethem published Motherless Brooklyn, a National Book Critics Circle Award-winning novel t...more
More about Jonathan Lethem...
Motherless Brooklyn The Fortress of Solitude Gun, With Occasional Music Chronic City As She Climbed Across the Table

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