Mr. Nice Guy

When it comes to comedy, I rather look the other way. You’ll never hear me suggest to watch a funny movie or laugh at an obvious joke. What’s truly humorous to me is subtlety, which is why this novel by Jonathan Lethem makes me chuckle. While reading about the four men who abducted Lionel in chapter 3, I imaged them to be tough, intimidating guys. Lethem took this opportunity, and made the characters the butt of the joke. Here’s what I mean:

“We want you scared.” But it was eight-thirty in the morning, and we were fighting traffic on Second Avenue. (146)

What’s funny to me is that these men were sent to Lionel to scare him, rather than staying quiet and letting the tension build up, they told Lionel straight up what their intentions were, cutting all chances of making him feel frightened. Lionel describes the scene as they sit in traffic chatting about how the door men are taking him to a location to rough him up, clearly doing a terrible job at making him feel intimidated. I typically associate big doormen to be emotionless, unapproachable, rugged men who walk around squishing anything and everything that gets in their way as though they were tiny insects scattered on the sidewalk. Instead, these doormen have soft skin and wear cheap sunglasses like most women I know. Lethem has an ironic approach, describing the mans tender hold on Lionel as a hug (146). Using repetition throughout the novel Lionel says, “he reminded me of my long-ago kissing tic, the way he was crowding me close to him in the car” (146). Lionel spends his time in the car coaching them, and pointing out the flaws in their scheme: “you can’t throw a scare so good when you’re scared” (151).


Chelsea Silva-Martin


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