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This is my fourth Lennon book and I liked it very much. Like others have written, the ending came together a little bit too neatly and there was not nearly as much conflict as I might have expected but the writing was solid. I read it in about six sittings over a fortnight, which is lightning quick for me. Castle is my favorite then Mailman and I would say The Funnies and Pieces are tied. When I read the reviews and previews, I expected a really dark tale like Mailman but it was much lighter. It was almost like the story had been smoothed over to exclude the conflict. What little there was seemed muted. It was not what I expected but the writing was top notch as expected, and I expect nothing less from Lennon. He is a craftsman with the English language. His metaphors are clever and expertly woven into his own unique storytelling style and original voice. I was expecting Tim to get the series, really enjoy writing it, and then anger and alienate his family by continuing The Funnies but that is not what happened at all. The part I enjoyed most was the funnies festival and especially the scene when he meets the the kids playing the family and they are all smoking pot and he is intimidated by them. I can identify with that scene as a 45 year old who was never really cool and I feel anxiety around young people who seem to do whatever they want. I felt like I was there at the carnival and all of those pages are expertly-written, comedic, and satisfying to read. I didn’t care for the storage locker part or Pierce for that matter and would have liked more backstory with some teeth into why their dad was so bad. Or was he so bad, the characters seem to like their dad better at the end during their discovery of each other. I also found the names unconventional and slightly annoying. Call me old fashioned but I prefer to read names like Tim and Susan rather than Bitty. The fact that I am writing this much and that others have as well tells me it is an interesting book and that Lennon is a good writer. Readers usually want more from good writers and tend to be harshly critical. I do a little writing myself and know all too well how hard the craft is. I forgive any writer for being human. I look forward to my next Lennon book. Check it out!
Amazon.com Review In J. Robert Lennon’s fine, wistfully funny second novel, The Funnies, the comics turn out to be very serious business indeed. New Jersey cartoonist Carl Mix was an alcoholic tyrant who used his “Family Funnies” comic strip to transform his real family into a set of puckish, dimwitted cartoons. The only thing worse–he left one of his children out of the strip entirely. “Maybe Dad conceived of it as a way to control us,” his slacker son Tim muses, as he receives news of his father’s death. “In the unbreachable box of the comic strip, we could be charming and obedient, and we would stay that way, year after year.” Carl’s will has left nothing to Tim, a talent-free installation artist, except the “Family Funnies” themselves. If he can draw the strip in three months, then all rights and proceeds are his; if he can’t, he gets nothing at all. Tim studies his father’s craft, and he learns not only about cartooning but also about his father, families, even the small, redemptive miracle of work itself. There are many fine touches in Lennon’s tale: the sad, chain-smoking brother Pierce, who takes pills to get rid of the “extra people”; their town’s annual FunnyFest, in which visitors can buy Timburgers and Coca-Cola à la Carl; Brad Wurster, the grim-faced artist who teaches Tim how to draw (“‘Family Funnies’ sounded, on his tongue, like a fraternal order of concentration camp doctors”). But in the end, it’s the funnies themselves that stay with you. As Tim works obsessively on the strip, its stylized visual language and bland gags eventually become an object of genuine, capital-M Mystery–weirdly compelling and symbolically fraught. In its own, stubbornly shallow way, the strip is a document of their family, or at least of their father’s self-loathing. “Cartoon characters are deformed freaks we are convinced are like us,” Wurster tells his reluctant pupil, but in Lennon’s hands, it’s the American family that looks more freakish than ever. You’ll never look at the Sunday comics in quite the same way again. –Mary Park
The Funnies Hardcover – February 15, 1999 by J. Robert Lennon (Author) Review
Lennon’s writing is some of the most vivid and energetic I’ve seen. He’s strongest with his metaphors , but working hard beneath those great images are his very concrete nouns and verbs. Crisp, fast, and quite humorous writing are Lennon’s trademarks. His dialogue is also dead-on and often hilarious. His characters not only speak, they also do — notice how much they move, gesticulate, frown, smile, etc. It all helps to build some serious dose of characterization. Unfortunately, the plot doesn’t have the magical touch like his writing. Although the book starts off nicely enough, the ending is visible at about the midpoint of the novel. Not only that, but the transformation of Tim Mix, the protagonist of the novel, is tough to buy. Not because Lennon didn’t give us enough warning — he does, and plenty of it — but because it’s just so. ..lame. He turns into a goodie-goodie and I just couldn’t swallow it. Sorry. And is it just me or is the ending of this book kinda reminiscent of Vonnegut’s "Bluebeard"? The potato barn = the warehouse? -Read Reviews-
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, having finally picked it up after years of it being on my wishlist! Tim Mix is not an instantly likeable character, but as he grows throughout the novel, he becomes so. The relationship between Tim and his schizophrenic brother Pierce is reminiscent of Wally Lamb’s I Know This Much is True–both young men seem to have been awfully damaged by their father but build a beautiful relationship in the aftermath of his death when lack of finances on Tim’s part throw them together for the first time in years. Descriptions of New Jersey, specifically travel around auto-packed central Jersey, were right on. The humor throughout the novel was sly. It was fun to figure out at just whom Lennon was poking fun at the cartoonists’ convention. A worthwhile read!