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Chase knows all this because her letters are printed in the New York Times, and he has assumed the role of city hero, a surrogate for everyone's worry. Let me say here that I have no idea whether Lethem lights up himself, but without even considering the possibility, I'd already thought the sparkiness of earlier work such as Gun With Occasional Music and Motherless Brooklyn had gone strangely awol in Lethem's last two novels, the wide-ranging but frequently dull The Fortress of Solitude and the misfiring romantic comedy You Don't Love Me Yet.
Chronic City is better than both of those, but it's still sometimes a struggle to see through the sheer haze of pot smoke. The plot ambles along, and slowly — too slowly — coincidences start resolving themselves, plotlines intersect, and larger themes emerge about validity and falsity, both in art and in life. What starts as a genial, if overly spacey, story gently darkens into something far more downbeat.
'Chronic City' by Jonathan Lethem - Los Angeles Times
But it's hard not to think that inside these amiable pages is a really corking page novel struggling to clear its lungs. Take Janice's letters to Chase. Popping up every hundred pages or so, they're just brilliant.
From the Russian crew struggling not to give in to despair, to the botanist who secretly brings bees from the space station's garden to sting Janice in an attempt at complementary treatment — "their dry little feet affixed with rubber cement so they won't drift" — these are told with a level of clear, devastating feeling that is too often diluted elsewhere in the book. The letters, in fact, are so compelling, they were a standalone short story in the New Yorker last year called "Lostronaut".
And "Lostronaut", I think, is the Chronic City that might have been; everything Jonathan Lethem is capable of: compellingly odd beauty, a fresh turn of phrase those "dry little feet" and a concise, downbeat narrative arc, all delivering insight and emotional impact. Not only does it make for a hazy story, it's self-defeating.
Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem
Although not every idea comes off and the novel lacks some of the emotional power of his Motherless Brooklyn , one comes to take real pleasure in the company of these narcissistic weirdos. Love puzzles? Get the best at Telegraph Puzzles. Books on Amazon. A collection of the best contributions and reports from the Telegraph focussing on the key events, decisions and moments in Churchill's life.
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Style Book. Weather Forecast. In a way, I need to be dreaming my way back here. The longing and exile are part of my relationship to writing about this place. A change of scenery has worked for Lethem in the past. You should find a way to slow that down and dwell in your apprenticeship and take pleasure in being playful and unfinished while you can. He dropped out of college his sophomore year, and had never thought much about becoming a full-time professor.