Kafka Americana BOOK review [Lethem/Scholz]

Book Reviews
Kafka Americana BOOK review [Lethem/Scholz]
Sep 1, 2001, 02:51

KAFKA AMERICANA by Jonathan Lethem and Carter Scholz; Norton, 2001

The rising profiles of Carter Scholz (whose recent science fiction novel Radiance satirizes the competitive nature of nuclear scientists in the US and Soviet Union in the late 1990s) and Jonathan Lethem (author of Motherless Brooklyn, a crime story starring a fitful detective who struggles to control his Tourette's Syndrome utterances) might draw more attention to this collection of short stories than was imagined when the sequence of writings began in 1993. In an exercise of the imagination the authors place the author Franz Kafka in a time warp that transplants him into mid-20th century America. Lethem's K Is For Fake, the most circulated of these previously anthologized works, is a rewrite of Kafka's novel The Trial, but it and the rest of the stories in Kafka Americana are more in the vein of Kafka's lesser known short fiction than his major novels. Scholz' The Amount To Carry and Blumfeld An Elderly Bachelor detail the struggles and insecurities of two commonplace tradesmen who are trapped within self-imposed emotional labyrinths. Lethem's two stories, along with another that is a collaboration with Scholz, are congruently postmodern in sentiment and less dread laced. In them the personages of Superman, Orson Welles, Jerry Lewis, Frank Capra and others are woven into plots that are loosely based on Kafka's life and works of fiction. Lethem and Scholz's short stories convey vaguely familiar, but ultimately inalienable, meanings and experiences that evoke Kafka's writing without being imitative. That Lethem and Scholz are able to do this without requiring that the reader have direct familiarity with Kafka's writing is as much a tribute to the timeless nature of the work of the author that inspired this project as it is to the efforts of these ascending stars of modern fiction.

- Jeffrey L. Ouch

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