‘Light And The Sufferer’ by Jonathan Lethem
This is the other story in the collection that I had already read and again I was surprised by its inclusion in Feeling Very Strange. It was originally published in 1995, considerably pre-dating Motherless Brooklyn (1999), his first work of straight realism, and Fortress Of Solitude (2003), his fictionalised auto-biography. It is with these works – with their focus on the real world and, particularly, Lethem’s New York – that the story has most affinity but it lacks any of the ambiguity that tipped Fortress Of Solitude into slipstream.
At its most basic it is the story of two brothers and a drug deal. However, it also contains a race of aliens called Sufferers:
“Of course its weird,” said Don. “That’s why we love it, right, Paul? It’s from another dimension, it’s fucking weird, it’s science fiction.”
It isn’t that weird though. In the story the Sufferers are treated like something like crack or guns, not exactly quotidian but hardly alien either. Like Chiang’s God the Sufferers are inexplicable but whereas in his story that was the whole point in Lethem’s story it is just a distraction. The real story is the story of the two brothers and, as with Fortress Of Solitude, this is weakened by the fantastical elements. This isn’t feeling very strange, it is feeling like you have a pebble in your shoe.
Christopher Peditto filmed ‘Light And The Sufferer’ in 2004 but it has sat on the shelf since then. It was finally released at the beginning of this month (presumably Paul Dano’s rising star helped with this.)