Wednesday, January 13, 2010

First Book of the Year

I finished Jonathan Lethem's new book, Chronic City, last night. I haven't read Lethem before, and I can't say I'll be going on a run of his other books any time soon. Don"t get me wrong, I did enjoy the book, but if I'm being honest, the writing is a bit too pretentious to recommend to the average reader. Chronic City is essentially the story of a band of eccentric New Yorkers trapped in a slumping Manhattan. The characters have great names: Chase Insteadman, Perkus Tooth, Oona Laszlo, but I didn't find any of them particularly likeable or nearly as quirky as Lethem probably does. I think Perkus is supposed to be heroic, and I wasn't buying that at all. There are some extended metaphors going on, but I felt inadequate trying to make sense of them. I will admit, I'm not the most refined reader, so the fault may be mine. I can appreciate having to do a little work to figure things out, but it felt like Lethem may actually enjoy having us not figure it out. Of course, that's not necessarily a bad thing. My guess is that Lethem is one of those New York City countercultural snobs writing for that very same audience-not that there's anything wrong with that. Lethem's writing is strong and fluid, so he's able to provide a window into a world I am quite removed from. When an author can keep you interested in a narrative of characters that aren't your cup of tea, I think that speaks volumes about the author's skill. That's the thing, Lethem is clearly a talented writer, with a distinct style. I guess the problem boils down to what makes a good story, and that's where Lethem and I may not see eye to eye all the time.

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