Hand-Drying in America and Other Stories

Ben Katchor. Pantheon, $29.95 (160p) ISBN 978-0-307-90690-8
In one of the more sublimely caustic stories in Katchor’s brilliant, darkly magical new collection, a suburban house attracts the attention of an architecture critic who loves how the roof reforms itself to match the shape of the master bed. He is all set to publish a laudatory article on it when the housekeeper makes the bed, and the critic loses interest. There are more than 150 pieces like that in this oversized edition, most of them taking up just one page. Nearly all involve some surreal tweak on modern obsessions with form, design, status, and particularly architecture and the pretentious folly of its acolytes. Like a grungier Chris Ware, Katchor uses slashing lines and bleak-faced people to populate strictly delineated worlds that hum with surrealism for all their exacting detail: the building so high-tech it allows no wood (“all your possessions must be uploaded as digital files”); the mixed-use complex with one blank wall so off-putting that “two tourists die of boredom”; a move toward using vitreous china for fast-food packaging and automobile bodies. Katchor’s universe might be at a 45-degree angle to reality, but it’s close enough for his barbs about the modern world’s hatred of the past to keep their humorous sting. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 11/19/2012
Release date: 03/01/2013
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