‘Lucky Alan’ by Jonathan Lethem, stories (2015) – 157 pages Grade: B+
Jonathan Lethem in ‘Lucky Alan’, his latest collection of stories, proves to be the Rod Serling (Twilight Zone) of modern-day writers. Most of these stories begin with a quite realistic setup until things take a surreal turn. But instead of being eerie, these stories take the reader on an exhilarating ride. ‘Lucky Alan’ is a liberating collection that widens the possibilities of what short stories can be.
The first title story, ‘Lucky Alan’, captures the ambiance of Greenwich Village in New York. Where else would you find legendary theatre director Sigismond Blondy going to watch old movies in decrepit theatres on weekday afternoons? Then the story takes a weird and wild turn as Lethem’s stories are wont to do when we meet the director’s neighbor Alan Zwelish.
One of my favorite stories in the collection is ‘Traveler Home’ which is written in a short-hand stream of consciousness that acknowledges the fact that we don’t think in full sentences This is a story where our traveler finds a baby abandoned on a rural road during a snowy winter evening after first seeing seven wolves. Lethem is good at creating a cold crystalline almost magical atmosphere.
Another fine story is the last story, ‘Pending Vegan’ about a father’s manic family trip to Sea World.
“So here he was. The first step, it seemed, involved flamingos. After he had hustled his four-year-old twins through the turnstiles and past the souvenirs, the stuffed animal versions of the animals they had come to confront in fleshly actuality, his family followed the park’s contours and were met with the birds. Their red-black cipher heads bobbed on pink, tight-feathered stalks, floating above the heads of a crowd of fresh entrants.”
This writing captured Sea World very well for me. As you can see from the above, these stories vary immensely in locale and mood.
I was unable to fully appreciate two stories in this collection. ‘The Back Pages’ is a frenetic slapstick story about a bunch of comic book characters stranded on a tropical island. I suppose if I had read Marvel comics as a kid, I could have appreciated this story, but my childhood comic book interests were elsewhere. ‘The Dreaming Jaw, The Salivating Ear’ is a story with blogging as its conceit, and probably was humorous at a certain point during the early days of blogging, but I failed to get the joke now. To another reader, these two stories may have been his or her favorites.
With such a wide-ranging group of stories there are bound to be one or two that do not appeal to a given reader. However overall I found ‘Lucky Alan’ to be a strong vigorous imaginative group of stories.