Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Chronic City, Jonathan Lethem

At the reading last night, Lethem dispels a haggler who lambastes him for talking ill about Russians by saying "For the paperback, I'll say a few bad things about the Chinese." Lethem has a reputation for being an equal-opportunity-satirist, it's his specialty. He also knows something about scribing kickass prose.

I became I disciple after I read Motherless Brooklyn. I remember going on a junket with a couple of droogies of mine and passing by the Gowanus and saying hey that's where Lionel Essrog tread. Then The Fortress of Solitude became a must read for me. Lethem spins a story of Brooklyn that's full of grittiness and whimsy. How the hell does he do it? Well, he's a King's County man for one and he's an urban anthropologist if this city ever had one.

Chronic City is his latest baby. And it's a beaut. Chronic, just so you know, is top-of-the-line pot, the good shit, the antithesis of schwag. Chase, the former child star, Upper East Side dinner party fixture pals around with Perkus Tooth an oddball highbrow cultural savant. Perkus has this ferocious ability to think elliptically-- he doesn't even know when his synapses clank onto their prescient discoveries.

Chase and Perkus get into some mischief and whatnot. There's a lot of choice verbal barbing. Chase is also in a relationship with a female astronaut who pens letters from outer space. I've seen some critics comment that this book seems more Pynchonian than his earlier works. I see Jonathan Lethem busting out identifying with his Chronic-juked Chase.

The Brooklynite plans to read a different chapter at each of his readings so you could listen to his whole book. In a recession like this, that's a sweet deal on his part. Trouble is you'd have to get yourself to all his events. He got the idea while he was chilling out with some pals in Maine before the novel went into print. Instead of reading to himself, whereupon he might've sluffed through slow parts he put his performance voice in high gear and swigged lot's of honeyed tea.

If you don't feel like pawning yourself as a book groupie or plunking down for the lit gem then I suggest catching a bit of him on podcast. Oh yeah, and Wall Street Journal actually offered a free excerpt. What up with that?


  1. Lethem sounds like a real treat to see in person! Seems as though the reviews for CC have been widely mixed - an either-they-love-it-or-hate-it.

  2. It comes down to charatcer. The reviews I've checked out say this is not a plot-driven book. And maybe that's true, but Lethem is "a characters" and his characters are characters. It's tough when you've penned killer books before. Everybody holds you to a higher standard. I rarely listen to the critics.