‘The Afterlife’ by Jonathan Lethem

The Afterlife by Jonathan Lethem, 2020

The magic trick:

Good writing, even if the subject matter isn’t particularly enthralling

I really like the way Jonathan Lethem writes. The sentences find the right balance between tight and overly minimalist. The tone always seems right – not too formal, nor too casual.

Now then, this particular story? Meh. Honestly, if you want an interesting portrait of a possible afterlife, you’d be better off watching the beginning of Beetlejuice.

So, a great story? No.

Does it make me interested to read further the novel from which it was excerpted? No.

Great sentence writing? Yes.

And that’s quite a trick on Lethem’s part.

The selection:

R. began to wonder whether he’d find anyone he knew. Even as he registered the thought, he understood that this was a preoccupation among many of those roaming the floor. In fact, he saw now that it was this imperative that dictated the general movement, the characteristic circular milling. All present had seized on it by instinct, the urge to sort through the faces of others, in search of recognition. R. was party to this. More bodies had moved into the side room, perhaps feeling a kind of reverse claustrophobia, a terror of the vastness of the main space.


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