Saturday, October 31, 2009

Mini-Review of "Chronic City" by Jonathan Lethem

The author of acclaimed novels, "Motherless Brooklyn" and "The Fortress of Solitude," had just released his latest send-up of life in New York City. Jonathan Lethem's brilliant portrayal of the denizens on the Upper East Side is a tour de force that introduces the reader to characters that range from toney to tawdry to tatterdemalion.

The narrator, Chase Insteadman, is "a handsome, inoffensive fixture on Manhattan's social scene, lives off residuals earned as a child star on a much-beloved sitcom called Martyr & Pesty. Chase owes his current social cachet to an ongoing tragedy much covered in the tabloids: His teenage sweetheart and fiancee, Janice Trumbull, is trapped by a layer of low-orbit mines on the International Space Station, from which she sends him rapturous and heartbreaking love letters. Like Janice, Chase is adrift, she in earth's atmosphere, he in a vague routine punctuated by Upper East Side dinner parties."

Part of the genius of "Chronic City" is the parallel between the sad tale of Janet trapped in a decaying orbit, and the eccentric orbits of the satellite personalities that populate Chase Insteadman's world - spanning the horizon from the homeless to the Mayor's office, from acupuncturist to acolyte. Along the way, the author has his characters wrestle with the nature of reality, power, beauty and relationships.

Lethem's writing raises the bar on wry and sardonic. It is a Manhattan tale told with a generous schmear of New york attitude.

I loved this book so much that I will now go back and read his two earlier works. It is easy to see why Lethem has won a MacArthur Fellowship "genius award."



No comments: