"The Porn Critic"
by Jonathan Lethem
Originally published in the April 9, 2012 issue of The New Yorker.

How is it that after weeks of not even posting brief thoughts on a story from The New Yorker do I already have this one up this morning. Well, work has been terribly.  So terrible, in fact, that I haven’t left the office yet. I had a bit of a lull in the middle of the night and decided to jump ahead of the curve here. If my thoughts are a little strange, well, I’m no Varamo.

Or maybe I am too tired, because it took some time for the meaning of the opening sentence to settle on me:

Kromer couldn’t operate hedonism but these days it operated him, in the way that a punctuated cylinder operates a player piano.

Or wait, after writing it, I’m not so sure the meaning of it has settled. I’ll welcome anyone’s opinion because of my aforementioned state-of-mind, but I really got nothing here.

It’s the 1990s, and the “uncooperative world” was “slouching through a new propriety under Clinton.” The main character Kromer is first introduced as a clerk. It doesn’t take too long, though, even for a short story, for us to find out that he works at a porn shop called Sex Machines. In fact, he writes the Sex Machines’ newsletter. In his home he has towers of VHS cassettes filled with porn, and this gives guests the wrong impression.

And that’s about all I got out of the story, even after reading the equally opaque interview on The New Yorker website. I felt the story was uninteresting and any payoff at the end — which was certainly intended — nonexistent.

Also, maybe it’s just the series of all-nighters and I’m really missing things, but does this make sense to anyone: “The permanent mystery was how much you seemed to know before you knew anything at all. Or maybe the permanent mystery was how stupid you could be and yet how you clung to evidence that your stupidity knew things you didn’t.” I’m happy to be convinced otherwise, but for me this was a bunch of false cleverness and profundity.

So I didn’t like the story, but from a “glass-half-full perspective” with the title of the post, the hits on my blog should go up quite a bit.

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