Abby Sheaffer Reviews Lucky Alan by Jonathan Lethem

 Lucky Alan and Other Stories is a short story collection worth reading. Each and every character in the story insinuates itself in the reader’s mind, and the worlds Lethem creates for them is an enjoyable treat for a reader who likes to think.

The titular short story, “Lucky Alan”, is told in rich and enchanting layers. It follows Sigismund Blondy and his tumultuous friendship with the grumpy Alan Zwelish. Zwelish is a Llewellyn Davis type of man, always annoyed or frustrated by the deck life has dealt him. Blondy—a sophisticated director in the twilight of his life—represents everything Zwelish cannot, or will not, ever attain, thus luck and generous verbal sparring spur the cornerstone of their relationship. Lethem managed to write a near flawless short story with “Lucky Alan”; the characters evolve and develop in intriguing and very human ways. Perhaps the most intriguing character of all in Lethem’s story is Death, whose swift hand acts as not only a magnificent plot device, but also reveals, in candid and dark humor, the strange ways of the world.

“The King of Sentences” follows a yuppie couple with a fetish for sentences. They cultivate an obsession with a John Updike-esque author to their own detriment. Their fixation with the author culminates in a bizarre conclusion, which Lethem executes in a swift and comedic manner that the reader won’t anticipate. The pretentious couple’s idolatry of the author reads like a contemporary fable, though Lethem wrote it in such a manner that it doesn’t beat the reader over the head.

What short story caught me by the most surprise was, “The Porn Critic” which follows a young man named Kromer in the 1990s and his heiress friend, Greta, who is poised to inherit her trust fund at the age of 30 but is far more eager to die in a dramatic and “squalorly” manner. At the heart of the story is “Invisible Luna” and “Beautiful Renee”, a couple of young beauties attached at the hip. Kromer, infatuated by Renee, attempts to pry her away from Luna through out the story. The delicate yet potently written denouement takes place within the walls of Kromer’s porn infested apartment. Lethem’s character study of Kromer is one that will linger with the reader; the sonic boom of Kromer’s epiphany stirred me, and one feels sympathy for the character, if only for his awareness of his flaws.

“The Empty Room” follows a young man as he comes of age and his father’s obsession with keeping one room in their house completely void of anything. His father’s eccentricities buzz like a fly through out the story as he establishes new mandates for what goes on in that room. It’s a gentle reverie of a story that also acts as a small but potent family tale, ripe with memorable scenes.

“Pending Vegan” details a day-in-the-life of the troubled Paul Espeseth, fresh off Celexa and with his family at SeaWorld. Lethem is able to cultivate the stark reality of what life is like for one off anti-depressants, portraying SeaWorld as a place full of sharp corners and strange occurrences. Espeseth gets redeemed in the end, by none other than a Jack Russell terrier who may or may not be from his past. Lethem uses the dog’s tongue as a way to try and pry Espeseth from the clutches of his hyper-reality, but leaves the story on an ambiguous note.

Reading this short story collection once is a shame, they demand to be read and re-read, they demand to be ruminated and sifted over for days. Lethem has created a goldmine of a collection that details men in crisis in the 21st century, character studies that hit a nerve and cling to you for days. Lucky Alan is a treat for readers who like to think.

4/5 stars


Lucky Alan and Other Stories 


Jonathan Lethem 


(1st Edition) February 24th, 2015

176 pages