>The New Yorker: "The Porn Critic" by Jonathan Lethem

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April 9, 2012: “The Porn Critic” by Jonathan Lethem


This one does nothing for me. Fortunately, because the story is available online for anyone to read, I don’t have to summarize it. You can read it for yourself. I’ll just say that it’s the 90s and the main character, Kromer, works in sex shop. Among his duties is reviewing porn for the store’s newsletter and, consequently, his home is filled with VHS tapes. He’s got some friends who come over . . .

Did anything happen in this story?

5 thoughts on “>The New Yorker: "The Porn Critic" by Jonathan Lethem”

  1. >I have to say I, too, got nothing from the story . . . the first time I read it. But then, I read your review which pretty much replicated my reaction. Wondering if the story really could be such a complete dud (the New Yorker misses the boat every now and then, as we all know, but it rarely if ever publishes complete gibberish), I decided to check the interview with the author and then go back for a second, slower read. It made a big difference. There is a lot here, and I now see why I missed it the first time – the author does tend to get tangled up in attempts at poetic similes, metaphors, etc. that don’t quite work and tend to obstruct the story flow – but on the second go-round, I was able to just blow through these and get a better feel for what was going on with the characters. (It’s intriguing that the prior blog post urged writers to read poetry; I suspect Lethem had done a lot of that but wish he hadn’t!)

    I don’t think it’s feasible to analyze the story in the context of an on-line comment, but I will suggest that the key tension here is Kromer’s designs-fantasies-hopes-aspirations etc. re: Renee and the impact on that of the apartment visit from hell. In one sense, this could be seen as a very funny story (about one who, quite literally, is a porn critic and is seen by those around him as much more of a sexual being than he really is). But many readers will likely hesitate to laugh much because many of us, too, have experienced amorous disasters such as the one presented here.

    I’m not a filmmaker, a fiction writer, or anything like that, but I feel I can visualize the whole thing (the characters, the settings, the action, etc.) so vividly I probably could write and direct a film version of this work. I understand that the story can seem very empty on the first read, but I strongly suggest giving it a second chance.

  2. >I started to read it, stopped because I didn't like it, and came here to see if I shoud continue. I see I shoudn't. Thanks!

  3. >I usually agree with your assessment of stories, but I'll differ here. I really enjoyed it.

    I've read Lethem's short stories before, and wasn't as impressed as I'd hoped.

    But I found this witty and amusing. It's beautifully written, so much character description coming out richly from conversations or scenarios.

    The premise — how we're viewed by others, how we're blind to the way we're viewed by others, the way 20-something slackers court danger or unconventionality as fashion or character development — engaged me.

    I wonder if, like the character Renee was repelled by Kromer being surrounded by VHS porn, readers are similarly repelled, blocking an appreciation for the writing.

  4. >By the end of page two I found myself wanting to put Greta, Renee, and Luna in a blender. I didn't care about any of them. Also, Kromer should have been charismatic, even in the sleazy way that girls hate to admit intrigues them. Not so here. A lot of detailed words but I didn't feel swept up in Kromer's mind, imagination, lust, or lack thereof. ZZZzzzz…..

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