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Monday, April 05, 2004

Fortress of Solitude

TBOGG writes about Jonathan Lethem:

    I had the opportunity to start reading Jonathan Lethem's The Fortress of Solitude (graciously purchased for me from my Amazon wish list..thank yew) and it's really good. Beauifully written. I read his Gun, With Occasional Music (which was okay) several years ago, and I never would have thought he was capable of this. In fact, I passed on Motherless Brooklyn because of Gun.

Gun, With Occasional Music was the first Lethem book I read (on reading a little 1/4 page review in the back of a Time magazine when it came out in the early 90's). I loved it, and I've read everything he's written since then. Most of it has been worth reading, and some has been very good indeed. But, Fortress of Solitude almost ended up in the Started But Never Finished pile because it really bored me. I only finished it because the book was a gift from my darling wife. I thought the writing was far too clever and the story too slow and pointless. Maybe that's because I was expecting something else?

All of Lethem's other books are all fairly small, with clearly-defined plots and there's often a sprinkle or more of sci-fi thrown in to keep the ol' imagination working. But this one was a long flashback of his own childhood (not exactly an autobiography, just inspired by his childhood in the 70's, according to an NPR interview i read). And while there were interesting topics like, the music of the time, the tagging and drug cultures, the troubles of a white kid in a black neighborhood, etc., there just wasn't a whole lot of plot to grab onto. About halfway through I started thinking, "OK, where is he going with all this? He's introduced a half-dozen different things that could be a plot if he pushed one of them a little, but none are grabbing me, and he's not making any one of them really stand out." Instead, he just wanders through 10 years or so of his childhood and describes all the stuff that happens to him and the people around him. All the people around him fall apart, or worse, and he ends up basically the same person he always was - alone. Was that the point?

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