The Art of Cartography

The people in J.S. Marcus’ THE ART OF CARTOGRAPHY are young and old, working, slumming, dreaming, despairing, guessing about and remarking on their strange and ordinary odysseys through life. They are usually smart enough to know that their incessant searching for some token of permanence is bound not to end.

The characters in these twelve stories—which do actually have a quality that renders them more drawn than written—all practice the art of cartography. They try their best to map the random facts of their worlds into geographies, order. They scrutinize the movements of others, they constantly compare their own circumstances with what they guess are the circumstances of others—friends, acquaintances or total strangers. They gather and relate details minutely, obsessively. Often they find, like the photographer who narrates “The Most Important Thing,” that impressions are impossible to settle on: He cannot decide whether his friend’s wife has “the manner, really, of a vain woman, or of a more feminine woman.” Even the so-called facts are difficult to come by: His friend talking about his life “seemed to make up his stories as he went along.” The photographer admires this ability.

In fact, many of Marcus’ characters not only accept impermanence and uncertainty, but embrace it. The narrator in the title story works as a gofer for a film company that is always changing addresses, always “toying with backruptcy.” This...

(The entire section is 420 words.)