“The Crooked House”
by Jonathan Lethem
from the March 8, 2021 issue of The New Yorker

This week we get another sci-fi story from Jonathan Lethem. Last year he published The Arrest, a novel that explores society in a post-technology. I started it but didn’t get too far. I always want to really fall into a Lethem story, but something keeps me from fully getting on its wave length, though it isn’t anything I particularly dislike. I actually think the opening sentence to “The Crooked House,” this week’s story, is an example:

The week he met the man who claimed to have exited the house by falling downward into a desert valley, Mull decided to give up coffee.

I can’t quite put a finger on it, but this just doesn’t appeal to me. The tone is not one that appeals to me, even though I don’t find it unappealing. I feel like I’m supposed to be intrigued — because of the house, sure — but mostly because I’m supposed to wonder what any of that has to do with coffee. Because I really don’t care about the coffee on its own, and have no reason other than this introductory sentence that puts more focus on it than on this strange building that, we learn in the next paragraph, has “periodic shifts” that bring to mind Hogwarts, I feel this is setting me up for a revelation that will be more clever than insightful, and, therefore, a revelation that probably only has meaning because it was initially hidden. I could be wrong, of course, but it’s still a tone and style that doesn’t vibe with me.

Since I’m behind on my New Yorker reading — I still have Groff and Lahiri that are on my must read stack — I’m not sure when I’ll get to this one. Please comment below with your thoughts. I am likely guilty of not giving Lethem’s recent work enough time to work on me, and if so I’m very happy to hear it and to look inward.

You know, I should just jump in and read this one rather than speculate. I’m off to print the story and put it aside for some lunchtime reading. I’ll report as soon as I can in the comments below.

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