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This Shape We're In

3.29  ·  Rating Details ·  592 Ratings  ·  52 Reviews
Lethem, author of the bestselling Motherless Brooklyn , returns in concentrated form - packing twice the adventure into one-eighth the pages. This book could be some kind of allegory book, but it might not be an allegory book at all. It involves people and drinking and people looking for a giant eye. It is among the best things Mr. Lethem has written.
Hardcover, 55 pages
Published February 1st 2001 by McSweeney's
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(showing 1-30)
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An oblique nutshell containing the kernels for comprehending existence, consciousness & the cosmos on multiple levels.

The sort of funny little story that sticks with you and takes root in your heart many years after having read & disowned it in indifference.

A rereading is more overdue than my last batch of library books.
Sam Quixote
Sep 20, 2011 Sam Quixote rated it it was ok
The novella is about a former General with a drinking problem sent by his shrewish wife to rescue their son from chanting as a cultist for something called the Third Eye. Oh yes, and they're all microscopic humanish creatures living inside a horse. So the general travels to the eye where his son is and along the way encounters militia drinking dens, bizarre orgies, barbecues with the horse's meat being used, and a Central Command gone mad.

I have no idea what the book is supposed to be about. It
Nov 12, 2007 Melanie rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Lethem fans, mostly
Shelves: 2008
I love Jonathan Lethem, and I have an unusually high tolerance for quirkiness, but I really wasn't invested in this...story? fable?...until the very end. The narrator is engaging enough, and there are nice absurd flourishes, but the ending is where it's at, and then it's over so quickly that it almost hurts. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone who isn't already a fan of Lethem, and even then I think I'd only recommend it to fans of his earlier, more "genre-y" works...and even THEN I'm still not ...more
Wes Young
Feb 25, 2009 Wes Young rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
S.H. Butler
Jan 07, 2008 S.H. Butler rated it liked it
a silly bit of fluff from jonathan lethem. fun if you're a lethem fan, but otherwise fairly throw-away and hardly worth the publication as a single work. lethem's "allegory" seems more like quirkiness for the sake of quirkiness.
Nov 02, 2007 John rated it did not like it
This was the first thing that I read by Lethem and it was very disappointing. Fortunately, I managed to ignore my feelings for this work and moved on to Motherless Brooklyn and The Fortress Of Solitude - both books that I really loved, especially MB.
Feb 28, 2012 Daniel rated it liked it
Lethem has proven himself to be a virtuoso of story-telling. His books, for the most part, inhabit a plane of existence that defies much classification, and they wield their creativity with the force of a sledgehammer but the precision of a scalpel. Although his work can sometimes be uneven, it is always entertaining, and certainly never average or boring (to be fair, though, his short stories are hit-and-miss).

This little nugget is, for the most part, a success, but it also comes across as only
A very quirky little read I found off of McSweeney's, This Shape We're In is short enough to finish in a single serving and strangely gripping, forcing a familiar, irritating sense of small town normality into a setting made primarily out of entrails and cruddy light fixtures. Dialogue is clipped and intelligent, and moves the story along at a brisk pace. Vital life questions (sex, death, obsolescence, human dignity, etc.) are acknowledged, pushed around some, maybe given a handshake, and left u ...more
Jul 25, 2011 Vicki rated it liked it
Lethem's Pynchonesque fever dream bombards the reader with rapid fire wordplay, much of involving the inventive juggling of cliches. But what does it all mean? The Falstaffian protagonist is travelling through a large body a la The Fantastic Voyage. At one point, he glimpses out through the body's eye and sees the Statue of Liberty. At another point, it's possible the body is actually a Trojan horse. So, ummm ... "This Shape We're In" is short and sufficiently fast paced that it can be visited n ...more
Spencer Madsen
Sep 10, 2011 Spencer Madsen rated it liked it
pleasant enough to read, but sorta fails on all fronts

seems to want to comment on a lot of things

religion, patriotism, ideology, innocence, the statue of liberty is represented briefly

but all these things are touched on so lightly and quickly that any sort of allegory lethem intended to set up seems forgotten by the end

its got some enjoyable bits of language and a somewhat likable protagonist in an interesting setting, and its quick to read. frustrating to try and derive meaning from though.
Charles Dee Mitchell
Brief and nifty. At fifty-five pages and with largish print, I think that in some other format, say The New Yorker, this would not be so much a novella as a long short story,

Perhaps the people at McSweeney's have figured something out. Is this what their readership is searching for? Books that remind them of the first "chapter books" they read in fourth grade? Do they remember their proud parents telling neighbors, "We so pleased with Joshua. He's begun reading chapter books."
May 12, 2009 Sarah rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 20, 2007 James rated it it was amazing
Weird and worth it. Take an hour for yourself: it's the craziest little adventure you didn't prepare for to a destination you thought was phooey--if you ever bothered to think about it in the first place. This is 60 pages I reread every couple of years. It's always good, but nothing like hitting those last pages for the first time. It's all the wackiness he usually musters boiled down to something you can drink with a beer. This Shape We're In always makes me smile.
Nov 18, 2010 Benjamin rated it it was ok
Shelves: recentreads
This is a (very) short story in a single printing, a bit weird, but hey, it's McSweeney's. The story is unique and there is a certain mystery that keeps the quest in which the characters are engaged interesting. I really liked what I took away as the message to wake up from our rampant consumerism and commercial fascinations that masquerade as culture, get off our butts, and do something. I definitely wasn't blown away by any means, but I'll read Lethem again.
Hope N
Jan 17, 2016 Hope N rated it it was ok
Um, I'm not sure what on earth this novella was about... I usually like the way Lethem plunges his readers head first into his worlds and pulls them along until they get the hang of it, but with only 55 pages, there's not really time to get a feel for the story before it's over -- in a confusing conclusion. Fantasy? Allegory? Truncated novel? Not sure what Lethem's getting at here...
Jul 26, 2007 Beckie rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2007
jeremy offered this book as a counterexample when i became suspicious that his dislike of the endings of the boy detective fails and special topics in calamity physics were indicative of a general trend. it does have a very good ending, but i didn't love the whole as much as some books with imperfect endings.
Neal Kerrigan
Jul 28, 2011 Neal Kerrigan rated it liked it
A novellette. It creates a demented aura like Poe. It also starts up disjointed but builds. You don't quite see the whole idea until the very end, and when you the book is over but the story continues to build in your mind. You think what happened before, the mindset of the people, and what will happen When the time comes. It has the aura of Poe.
Noah Soudrette
Aug 05, 2009 Noah Soudrette rated it really liked it
Shelves: jonathan-lethem
An excellent, bizarre Kafka-esque novella about an old soldier and a friend of his son's, journeying through, what seems to be some kind of giant body they all live in. Very bizarre stuff, and it definitely has a compelling mystery, with a mostly satisfying conclusion. Worth a read if you like Lethem, or if you just like weird.
David Allen
Feb 07, 2012 David Allen rated it liked it
I'd wondered what this was after seeing the title in his "Books by..." list. What this is is a lark, a 55-page snack involving a handful of human-like characters who exist in "a shape" that is apparently a living mammal of some sort and who navigate among the organs. Inessential, but weird and silly.
Jul 26, 2007 Lucy rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2007
jeremy offered this book as a counterexample when i became suspicious that his dislike of the endings of the boy detective fails and special topics in calamity physics were indicative of a general trend. it does have a very good ending, but i didn't love the whole as much as some books with imperfect endings.
Nov 16, 2008 Adam rated it it was ok
This is minor Lethem. In form, it is what John Gardner called jazzing around--"one of the best things narrative can do." Unfortunately, this novella just doesn't provide the sheer pleasure and wonder that Italo Calvino or Lewis Carroll give us when they're "jazzing." Here Lethem's cleverness is overt as always, but maybe too showy and kinda hollow.
John McDonald
Jan 02, 2010 John McDonald rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Lethem fans, people in waiting rooms or on public transportation
Shelves: fiction
I keep vacillating between 3 and 4 stars. Call it 3.66.

It's a minor Jonathan Lethem piece, a slightly-longer-than-short story, an hour or so's diversion. But even minor Lethem is better written and more interesting than the vast a majority of what one could be reading.
Nov 16, 2009 Leonard rated it liked it
This 55-page "novel" (or novella) is humorous, fast-paced, and a good book to read to find out how Lethem writes, if you're not quite sure you want to tackle one of his longer novels, although I do recommend "Motherless Brooklyn."
Aug 22, 2010 Michael rated it it was amazing
I can't think of a reason NOT to read this book. It's short, hilarious, deeply thought-provoking, and remarkably well-shaped. It makes me jealous. I would very much like to be able to write something along the lines of this.
Martin Fossum
Jul 02, 2015 Martin Fossum rated it really liked it
Delightful experimental short work. John Ashbury meets the novella. This is the kind of thing that psychologist should love. Strong associations, rhyme, and pop references. The muddle of a searching psyche...
Aug 04, 2007 Max rated it liked it
A wonderful little surreal story, I especially enjoyed the level of ambiguity maintained throughout.
David Markwell
Feb 08, 2016 David Markwell rated it liked it
The short strange tale about two men's journey (it seems as though they are inside a human body) is a great quick read. If you've never read Lethem this is a great place to start.
Brian McLaughlin
Jul 10, 2016 Brian McLaughlin rated it did not like it
just read this in 20 minutes at my dear friend @lizzinikki 's house. and im disappointed, mr lethem. meh.
Sep 02, 2011 Dirk rated it it was ok
I am a big Lethem fan, but I'm only giving Shape two stars because I'm measuring it against Motherless Brooklyn. This effort falls far short of that.
Daniel Burton-Rose
Jun 14, 2013 Daniel Burton-Rose rated it liked it
Shelves: u-dystopia
Purchased on a consumer impulse, my punishment for not being able to immediately recognize that i've already read this piece in a short story collection. It is a handsome little commodity though!
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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 about Jonathan Lethem...

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