Chronic City
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Chronic City

3.48 of 5 stars 3.48  ·  rating details  ·  6,045 ratings  ·  928 reviews
The bestselling and beloved author of Motherless Brooklyn and The Fortress of Solitude delivers a searing love letter to the city that has inspired his finest work.

Chase Insteadman, former child television star, has a new role in life—permanent guest on the Upper East Side dinner party circuit, where he is consigned to talk about his astronaut fiancée, Janice Trumbull, who...more
Paperback, 480 pages
Published August 24th 2010 by Vintage (first published 2009)
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Krok Zero
I thought I was done with this simulacrum bulls**t. Really, I did. One of the reasons why Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, NY failed to impress me as a mind-blowing masterpiece was its (to my mind) lazy employment of this most common of postmodernist tropes, this tired hand-me-down from Dick and Ba(udri)llard and The Matrix and eXistenZ and etcetera whatever nevermind. I wished for a moratorium on films and books incorporating the idea that WHAT IF REALITY IS JUST, LIKE, AN ILLUSION, MAN, and all i...more
Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
Moments of 5-star writing here but I found myself unable to have the kind of deep, caring engagement with the story arcs and characters that such a rating generally requires. That said, the book was fully entertaining all the way through. Jam-packed with humorous and thoughtful riffs and meta-riffs on pop culture, avant garde art, stoned philosophizing--all pulled through the looking glass of Lethem's penchant for Noirish Mystery and geekish cataloging. Clever but not too-clever.

The most enjoya...more
Jimmy
Shortly after a bout of sobriety and a return to Portland, from Las Vegas, I had the pleasure of seeing Jonathan Lethem give a reading in the building where I work. I've expressed opposition to public readings before, or at least a considerable amount of disdain toward an interest in the celebrity status of certain authors; admittedly a preoccupation or opinion derived from William Gaddis's thoughts on the subject. I was in total agreement with this man about how irrelevant it was to endlessly p...more
Michael
I was enthralled with this strange tour of the dope-inspired concerns of a contemporary group of Manhattanites. They form a circle of friends around a visionary former rock critic named Perkus Tooth. The portrait rendered of New York as a “pocket universe” for these characters seems like a pleasant cross between the disturbing delusions in novels by Philip K. Dick and the fun self-fulfilling quests in Vonnegut tales. From hybrid vigor, the offspring is satirical but not vicious, solipsistic but...more
Eddie Watkins
Long live Perkus Tooth! He must live, he is our Don Quixote, our post-9/11 innocent (even chaste) madman making of his own delusions (or, as I prefer, his own powers of imagination) a marvelously engaging and living world, the living world of this extremely entertaining novel.

Tooth is at war with illusion, using his own illusions as weapons, and it’s this clashing of culture’s false illusions and Tooth’s real illusions that creates life. There is nothing real, or rather the real exists at basic...more
Caris
Looking through the reviews here, I can’t help but think I read a different book than everyone else. The conspiracy is impressive. Why would someone go through the trouble of manufacturing a book, populating it with the same characters and same general plot point just so that I will read something mediocre while everyone else reads something brilliant? And, more importantly, who would do it? Are you there, God?

For me, this book was a long, meandering walk through the city in the early hours of t...more
Jonfaith
During those infinite summers of junior high, I would spend two or three nights a week at friends and one night hosting others. Such led to largely nocturnal existence, collapsing towards dawn only to wake at noon and go swimming. Role Playing Games, junk food and the new portals of Atari and VCRs extended a rather free reign to explore. One evening we were at my friend David's house, eating frozen pizza and talking about Culture Club. or, maybe, Chuck Norris Suddenly around 1 a.m. David's very...more
Tina
I had to force myself to finish this one. I love Lethem's style and concepts, but this story lacked any real plot in my eyes - the characters just bungle around while being pretty unlikeable. Chase was a loser, pretty much, and Perkus was one step from being the stereotypical smart-yet-weird, stoner, faux-intellectual. It wasn't that the story was boring; it was just useless and borderline cliche in some aspects. I couldn't empathize with a lazy once-actor, nor with an evidently smart but absolu...more
Edan
This is my favorite of Lethem's novel thus far. Fortress of Solitude had moments of brilliance, but the language felt too wanna-be DeLillo. Motherless Brooklyn was a bit dull for me, though others I know really love that book. I resent his novel about Silver Lake--I have not read it, nor will I. I realize it's merely "an entertainment" in an ouevre of more serious books, but after spending a whole novel complaining about the gentrification of Brooklyn, why go and write a novel about an east-side...more
Nick Lomonossoff
Apologies in advance to all fans of Jonathan Lethem, but I found 'Chronic City' an incredibly silly, overblown and tedious book. The author never seems to be able to decide whether he wants to create a kind of Pynchonesque delirium, in which eclectic literary artifact matters more than character and plot, or a simple comedy of manners set in Manhattan - and the result is an uneven mess. He never really answers the question (if he ever even considered asking himself) why the general reader should...more
Oscar
Jonathan Lethem escribió 'Huérfanos de Brooklyn', uno de los libros más desternillantes que he leído nunca, cuyo protagonista es un detective con el síndrome de Tourette (!). 'Chronic City', en mi opinión bastante inferior a aquella, contiene también momentos realmente divertidos. Pero el aire que Lethem le ha dado a 'Chronic City' no es el mismo que el de 'Huérfanos de Brooklyn' o 'La Fortaleza de la Soledad', su obra magna. Se trata más bien de una obra caótica y distópica, todo un homenaje a...more
Marc Weidenbaum
It was inevitable, perhaps.

Chronic City is the book with which I acknowledge to myself that Jonathan Lethem has joined the ranks of Don DeLillo, Paul Auster, Nicholson Baker, Joanna Scott, William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, and so many others -- which is to say, he has left the vaunted zone of Those Who (to Me, At Least) Can Do No Wrong, and he has entered the zone of Those Who I Still (Kinda) Really Like (Most of the Time). David Foster Wallace had made a similar move, around the time of Hideous...more
Nate D
A floating fresco of urban renewal, outsider cultural criticism, and the puppet-strings of power. Lethem's Manhattan is an island of literalized metaphor and dreamlike sets, one which he is nonetheless able to convey with a sort of conviction through an often thoroughly believable cast (all improbably Dickensian names and satiric caricatures aside). As usual, he's immensely readable, his plotting incongruous but ultimately convergent. Perhaps a little overly convergent, as after a while it start...more
Nick
I wanted to like this book and I'm not so sure I didn't.

Knowing that Lethem described his initial idea about this book as ostensibly a seinfeld episode, four people sitting in an apartment riffing about nothing at all, provides a wee bit of context.

The subplot I wish Lethem delved further into was the relationship between the protagonist and his astronaut wife who is stranded in space. I found myself making a mental list of all the possible implications, symbolism, and metaphors this carries. Th...more
Elaine
I'm generally a huge fan of Mr. Lethem's prose, but this book eludes me. There's a great play with the thematic twinning of fake versus real, whether Manhattan itself can be a sort of illusionist dreamscape with its flotilla of rich upper-crust East Siders, its quirky on-the-fringe inhabitants, its hobos and entrepreneurs and underground trade denizens. I was more than once reminded of Matrix, especially when the discussion centered around simulated reality, but in the end, I'm just puzzled. Tha...more
Robert
Es ist schon ein etwas seltsames Buch: Ein Tiger, der sich durch New York gräbt; ein einäugiger Kulturkritiker; merkwürdiger Schokoladengeruch, der über der ganzen Stadt liegt. All das verbindet Lethem zu einem großen N.Y.-Roman, während jedes Ereignis dennoch für sich bleibt. Doch von Anfang an:

Wir lernen Chase Insteadman kennen, einen ehemaligen Kinderstar, der noch heute von den Tantiemen der Serie lebt, in welcher er vor Jahren mitgespielt hat. Abgesehen von seinem bezaubernden Charme, ist C...more
Dana
I haven't enjoyed a book so much in ages. It is laugh out loud funny and the contemporary cultural references to bands, places, and pop icons make you feel smart. Then Lethem throws us a curve by inventing events, like a chocolate smell that engulfs Manhattan, that are just close enough to what really happened to be reminiscent and send you to google for confirmation. That seems to be the point: his characters talk about Baudrillard and virtual worlds theory even as his novel enacts the philosop...more
Casey
For a few days I thought of not reviewing this book. I was so angry with it I just felt it would be a review full of venom. But as the days have passed and I’ve moved on to another book and the duties of daily living, my anger has dispersed.

Chronic City is an exploration in a wordy world of meaningless. Jonathan Lethem has written books I really like. That’s why reading this book for me was so difficult to take. Lethem force feeds us the lives of Chase Insteadman and Perkus Tooth. Yes those are...more
James
Chase Insteadman. Perkus Tooth. Oona Laszlo. Foster Watt. Richard Abneg. Georgina Hawkmanaji, affectionately referred to as "The Hawkman," even though she is all woman, and then some. Rossmoor & Arjuna Danzig. Russ Grinspoon, formerly of . . . well, I think you get the idea. If these names don't grab the lapel of your imagination, then this probably isn't the book for you. Oh, and by the way, don't even think about reading anything by Thomas Pynchon. However, the two main names you need are...more
A
Dazzlingly ambitious! Breathtakingly insightful! Flawlessly, flawlessly written!....And an absolutely unbearable slog to read. This book made me so angry. Lethem is clearly a genius -- he writes like no other and thinks like no other -- but a good novelist he is clearly not. Jonathan, listen to your editor (or get a good one)! This should have been a collection of essays/stories or connected thought-pieces on city life (like his fellow Brooklytterati Colson Whitehead's great Colossus of New York...more
Alex V.
It took so long for me to read Chronic City it started to feel like I was roommates with the sophisticated drifters populating it. The characters and plots are absurd: a poetic music critic is befriended by a former child star who is engaged to an astronaut stranded on a doomed space station, just for starters.

The Manhattan they inhabit is a similarly doomed word to the space station, bathed in fog, pocked with man-made art chasms and ravaged by a giant tiger; and yet this book works as effortl...more
Len Vlahos
Chronic City was a fascinating book and, for me, a captivating read. At every twist in the plot, with every new character introduced, I expected to be put off by the book's inherent pretension. But somehow, it never happened. The prose was among the best I've ever had the pleasure to read, and the voices of the main characters were both sincere and infectious. The only reason I'm not giving Chronic City the fifth star is that it was just too silly in a few places, maybe trying too hard to be all...more
oriana
Nov 05, 2009 oriana marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Well, I've been wary lately of Jonathan Lethem, who I hear has put out a few clunkers since the stunning Fortress of Solitude. But here's a quote of his about this book from an interview with Brooklyn Based: "One of my thoughts to myself when I started this book was that it was kind of an interminable and nightmarish Seinfeld episode–the three guys and the girl hanging out in the apartment having these self- obsessed conversations about nothing."

Sign me up!
Paul Frandano
I've long been in the tank for Jonathan Lethem. Since the early SF novels through his maturation as a master practitioner of literary fiction. No one writes a better sentence or observes his surroundings - real or imagined - more closely and intelligently. Moreover, he populates his books with brilliantly realized eccentrics that, for me at least, in some other author's universe, might seem maddeningly false, but, in Lethemworld, fit right in - *and* remind you, or is it just me?, startlingly, o...more
Christian
I don't know what I was expecting exactly. The whole thing felt a little light and I wasn't so sure about the ending, but it feels mean to level such criticisms at what's basically a weed novel, although less so than something like T.C. Boyle's Budding Prospects. This is less about the stuff itself than about the baroque, conspiracy-laden frame of mind that can result from prolonged exposure... or so they told me in health class.

I won't recount the circumstances of the book, which concern charm...more
Peter
Okay, before I begin, two caveats. Number 1) I love Jonathon Lethem. Insanely. He is one of my favorite authors, living or not-living. Number 2) I really wanted to disagree with Kakutani's smug and devastating review of this book.

Now two painful admissions. Number 1) I really disliked this book. Insanely. Number 2) I agree with just about everything Kakutani wrote.

Oh, how it pains me to say it, but I think this book is self-indulgent, pretentious, and not very satisfying on any level. I felt n...more
Lisa
I was looking forward to reading this book, I really was. But as I got farther into it, hoping that something interesting would happen, I found myself wanting to do other things -- pretty much anything else, including dusting and emptying the dishwasher -- rather than read this book.
Lethem gives us a motley crew of Upper East Side oddballs to start “Chronic City.” Chase Insteadman, child star of a TV sitcom, now lives comfortably on royalties but is dealing with renewed publicity as the fiance o...more
Karen
I didn't get this book. I usually love Lethem - Motherless Brooklyn is one of my favorite books - but I found little to like about Chronic City. The language is often awesome, hence the two stars, but the story and cultural references bored me. (I also didn't get most of them, although I patted myself on the back for realizing "Obstinate Dust" by "Ralph Warren Meeker" was a reference to "Infinite Jest".) I tend to dislike novels that are packed with references to literature, film (especially fil...more
Jordan Ferguson
I discovered Jonathan Lethem purely by accident. I hung out in bookstores long before I was paid to do so, though in 2005 my reading habits were decidedly more four-colour and periodical in nature, as I continued amassing the 2,000+ issue comic collection I’ve mentioned in these pages before. So it was no surprise Lethem’s 2003 novel The Fortress of Solitude called out to me [titled after Superman's Arctic hideaway]. I tore through the thing in about a week, and even though I found the linguisti...more
Michael
What a brilliant failure! Lethem is a wonderful writer and lavishes some of his best prose on this shaggy dog story. He apparently read Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale and thought that he could do something similar. That was a very bad idea. I hesitate to suggest that the plot of Chronic City owes its existence to the contents of the little Lucite boxes of "Chronic City" (aka "Ice") that drive so much of the story line in this paranoid fantasy in a snow globe, but I have difficulty in finding any o...more
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6404
Jonathan Allen Lethem (born February 19, 1964) is an American novelist, essayist and short story writer.

His first novel, Gun, with Occasional Music, a genre work that mixed elements of science fiction and detective fiction, was published in 1994. It was followed by three more science fiction novels. In 1999, Lethem published Motherless Brooklyn, a National Book Critics Circle Award-winning novel t...more
More about Jonathan Lethem...
Motherless Brooklyn The Fortress of Solitude Gun, With Occasional Music As She Climbed across the Table You Don't Love Me Yet

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“...Don't rupture another's illusion unless you're positive the alternative you offer is more worthwhile than that from which you're wrenching them. Interrogate your solipsism: Does it offer any better a home than the delusions you're reaching to shatter?” 9 likes
“Today the tower's flock, the usual birds, flew in a kind of scatter pattern, their paths intricately chaotic, the bunch parting and interweaving like boiling pasta under a pot's lifted lid. It appeared someone had given the birds new instructions, had whispered that there was something to avoid, or someone to fool. I once heard Perkus Tooth say that he'd woken that morning having dreamed an enigmatic sentence: "Paranoia is a flower in the brain." Perkus offered this, then smirked and bugged his eyes--the ordinary eye, and the other. I played at amazement (I was amazed, anyway, at the fact that Perkus dreamed sentences to begin with). Yet I hadn't understood what the words meant to him until now, when I knew for a crucial instant that the birds had been directed to deceive me. That was when I saw the brain's flower. Perkus had, I think, been trying to prepare me for how beautiful it was.” 3 likes
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