Although I have never read a novel by Jonathan Lethem, I have heard that he is an incredibly inventive and gifted writer who writes in a dizzying array of styles. After reading his book of short stories entitled Men and Cartoons, I am already convinced that Lethem is probably gifted with one of the most amazing imaginations in fiction writing today.
Men and Cartoons features nine stories, all of which could easily have been written by different authors for how unique and different they are from each other. Lethem tackles science fiction in "Access Fantasy," a slightly baffling story about an alternate reality where people live on the other side of a One-Way Permeable Barrier and can only get to the other side by agreeing to be walking advertisements. He takes on unrequited love in "Vivian Relf," about a man who recognizes a girl at a party and whose chance meetings with her throughout the years end up meaning more to him than any of his other relationships. Lethem also creates sly social commentary in "The Glasses," a story about a black man who walks into a white optometristís office with a complaint about the glasses they sold him the day before.
Although each story is quite different from the others, there are a few themes that appear. One of his themes is comic-book heroes. Lethem explores them in both "The Vision" (about a man who runs into a childhood acquaintance who used to dress up like a comic book hero when he played in baseball games) and "Super Goat Man," about a former comic-book hero who now works as a college professor. Another theme is slightly alternate realities. In "The Spray" (police officers possess a magical spray that makes lost items reappear), "Super Goat Man" and "The Dytopianist, Thinking of His Rival, is Interrupted by a Knock on the Door" (about suicidal sheep, among other things), Lethem creates a world that is quite similar to our own, with slight differences.
The biggest similarity between all the stories, however, is wildly imaginative plots and superb prose that is both illuminating and, at times, quite funny. Lethem is a truly gifted author and this shines through in each of these nine stories. Men and Cartoons is the perfect place for a reader to be introduced to Jonathan Lethem and will also undoubtedly please his numerous fans.