I’ve been pondering what to say about Jonathan Lethem’s forthcoming novel Chronic City all week. No matter how careful, I worry that I’ll give something away in writing about it. Not that there’s a secret twist necessarily, but the whole book seems cloaked in a paranoia. Perhaps it’s all the pot the characters smoke?
Like his other books, this one plays with genres mixing mystery, romance, science fiction and more all in one. Chase Insteadman acted in a beloved sitcom and now lives off the royalties in Manhattan. His girlfriend is trapped aboard the International Space Station and sends him love letters which the media publish to great fanfare. His social cache makes him a must have at monied dinner parties. One day he meets Perkus Tooth, a slightly agoraphobic, pot smoking critic, whose paranoid delusions oddly rouse Chase’s paternal side. Several mysteries arise including rumors of a loose tiger who causes destruction to various neighborhoods.
There’s so much to talk about with this book! First, I’ll say that the main theme is the disconnectness of modern day urbanites. And what about the names? “Insteadman” stands in for Everyman, but because we’re all so disconnected we can’t imagine a person representing all of us. So we get Insteadman instead. Perhaps I’m reading too much into this. A name can just be a name after all. Twists and turns abound in this book. It goes places you might not imagine when you start reading it. And many of the pop culture references are close but not quite the same.
Gripping, tragic, fantastical are words I’d use if I thought it would help describe this book. It’s too difficult to categorize however. Everyone should definitely read it. I look forward to the discussion I know it will generate.