by Jonathan Lethem



107pp/$35.00/August 2006

How We Got Insipid
Cover by Blake Lethem

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

How We Got Insipid is a collection of two short stories by Jonathan Lethem.  Originally published in 1995 and 1996, the stories, “The Insipid Profession of Jonathan Horneboom” and “How We Got In and Out Again” represent two very different aspects of the genre of speculative fiction and Lethem’s own works.

The book first presents “How We Got In and Out Again,” a post-Apocalyptic tale in which towns are seen as fortresses against the wilderness of the non-urban environment. In order to gain entry to a town, wanderers must demonstrate that they have something to offer.  Lewis and Gloria are traveling on their own, two days from any meal and on the outskirts of a town. To get in, they hook up with another band of wanderers who prove to have something to offer the townspeople.

Once in the town, Gloria and Lewis find themselves involved in a virtual reality game run by their new partners. Over the course of the game, they both come to the partial realization that while towns offer security against the outside, they also offer a whole new set of dangers.

While the world Lethem creates for “How We Got In and Out Again” is interesting, it does raise several questions about the society and its infrastructure.  Food and electricity are available in towns without a logistical way of appearing. The town he depicts is entirely self-sufficient, despite the greater world situation Lethem asserted.

In “The Insipid Profession of Jonathan Horneboom,” Lethem pays homage to Robert A. Heinlein’s “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag.” Lethem’s story is a mystery in which the title character hires Harriet M. Welsch, an investigator who is the grown up version of Louise FitzHugh’s Harriet the Spy, to follow him in order to find out what happens when he suffers from memory blackouts and whether he is the one sabotaging his own art work.

Harriet’s investigations lead her from Hornboom’s studio to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and back. At his studio, she flees a nightmare image of Horneboom vandalizing his own paintings and eventually finds an unlikely assistant in art graduate student Richard DeBronk. At first appearing as a straight-forward case, Lethem introduces a variety of twists into it, resulting in a fun, interesting, and slightly disturbing story as Harriet learns what is really happening.

Of the two stories in How We Got Insipid, “The Insipid Profession of Jonathan Horneboom,” is the stronger, partially because there is no question about the way the world works in the story. Both stories have sympathetic characters and the style of writing for which Lethem has become known. Having the them together in this volume is a good addition to any Jonathan Lethem collection.

 How We Got In and Out Again The Insipid Profession of Jonathan Horneboom

Purchase this book in hardcover from Amazon Books.

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