Kafka Americana

Monday, May 10, 2010 7:57 PM By Simon

By My Love Jonathon Lethem and Carter Schlotz, a collection of both separate and collaborative stories based off the life, works, and alternate histories of Franz Kafka.

This, I found out only after I ordered it off Le Internet, was only 100 pages (exactly). But, okay, it was a very full hundred pages. The stories, quite a few, I'm not listing all of them, alternate between the two authors and their collaborative stories, ending in a climax of sorts, a fifteen-page parody of The Trial, as imagined by Rod Serling and Orson Welles, written only by Lethem, and appropriately named "K for Fake". Like Kafka's works, the stories are menacing, nightmarish, hallucinogenic, feverish, and dizzyingly complex. Well, not technically complex--the stories, in retrospect, are quite simple--but their execution if very...confusing.

Take, for example, "Blumfield, An Elderly Bachelor", written solely by Scholtz. A completion of Kafka's unfinished story of the same name. See, it was unfinished because, as he said in his diaries, he kind of hated the shit out of it. I can see why. The plot, of this new one, is of the same general theme (not merely picking up at the last original sentence), but a bit of an ugly story, one of self-loathing and dreary, the main-ish plot point being Blumfield fucking his couch cushions. I kid you not. See, he is bored and disgusted and whatnot with his day-to-day existence (explained in the equivalent prose of Ben Stein's voice), and the whole thing is just very uncomfortable.

The other stories fare better. There's an amusing story, again, by Lethem, called "The Notebooks of Bob K." which is a parody of Batman, as created by Kafka, which mockingly references his works. Of the same juncture is "Receding Horizon", where Kafka lives to movie to America, under the name Jack Dawson, and chronicles the time after his death, where he writes the original screenplay to "It's a Wonderful Life", the whole thing an alternate history where Frank Capra, dismayed at the failure of his last two opuses, including the melancholy new/old version of "It's a Wonderful Life", falls into obscurity.

They go like this. A mix of almost incoherent storytelling techniques and a somewhat superior way of spelling the message out.

I liked it, I mean to say. It's engrossing, once you get past the...Lethem-ness. Dare you not take this the wrong way. He's still my one and only. It's just, his writing style, combined with this Scholtz brother, and Kafka, it can all be confusing. Go read, then. Educate yourselfs!