2011/06/17

Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem

Chronic City
Jonathan Lethem, 2009, 480p.
The novel centres on a pot-fuelled and bohemian friendship in a semi-parallel Manhattan. Here a giant tiger (literally? or perhaps lovesick mining gear?) stalks the streets; Marlon Brando is alive or dead or maybe never was? Orbiting the earth is (perhaps) our narrator's fiancee, stranded by Chinese space mines. Can Perkus Tooth, retired columnist and cluster headache survivor come to understand this Manhattan? If he does, can any understanding be transmitted to Chase Insteadman, retired sitcom actor and designated mourner?

Initially disappointed, I am retro-reading this book as a frame for the series of love letters from space that run through the novel. These letters are beautifully written, compelling, and in the end manage to be heartbreaking in three dimensions. The rest of the novel focuses on Insteadman, a consciously cardboard entity. He provides a required frame for the space letters, and the earthbound world around him occasionally sparkles with beauty or wit. I understand that his vacancy is one of the points of the novel, but also sucks too much of the vitality from its bones.

Oddly, this book compels me to read more Lethem, not so much because the journey was engaging, but because the glimpses along the way were so enticing. Trolling around in reviews suggests that there might be works by him that glimmer all the way through. So, Motherless Brooklyn goes into my "to be read", but I would not recommend this as an entry work for Lethem.

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