Andrew's Reviews > Men and Cartoons

Men and Cartoons by Jonathan Lethem
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's review
Jan 18, 2008

really liked it
Read in January, 2008

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: the grimly ridiculous determination of the occupants of a horse at a mini-golf park in "This Shape We're In" (their idea is to fight and conquer, no sillier than what we all steel ourselves for), and the doomed would-be detectives (and would-be apartment-dwellers) in "Access Fantasy." In the erotic stories we draw cartoons of our lovers over the real lovers: -- with the spray in "The Spray," we draw memory itself over our real partners, and in "Vivian Relf" our ideas of others hover over the people themselves. In "The National Anthem" a cuckolder writes to a nervous cheating husband, giving him relationship advice -- but they've almost never seen each other: they're line drawings to each other, little more, and in "Planet Big Zero" an old friend comes to stay and fades out after his friend the cartoonist can't work him into the toon: in both cases the memory hovering over the real friend, competing with it, as cartoons and dystopias compete for privilege against the real. Mostly, the cartoon wins. So "Interview with the Crab" ends with the plea to draw the imaginary, impossible, ridiculous, bitter creature (himself struggling against his cartoon, and to distinguish it from the real) as he really is. And the whole book comes down to a line that no other character in the book but Lethem, the interviewer, would have said: "I promised the crab I would try." Perfect, and earned.

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