I tend to be obsessed with New York City—although having lived in the soul-crushing reality that is the city, a reality that bears little resemblance to the literary and cinematic portrayals of which I am fond, has tempered my enthusiasm and relegated it to appreciate from afar—which of course is why I reached for this novel among the literary line-up at the Honolulu airport store.
Having lived in said city, yes, I can relate to the existence of characters like Perkus and Chase, who seem to overpopulate the parks, coffee shops, and restaurants at all hours of the day and night, seemingly oblivious to the circadian rhythms that drive the rest of Manhattan to go to bed at a reasonable hour. It is this aimlessness and lack of purpose that seems to drive the characters to the brink of insanity and back on a daily basis, as they seem to be contemplating their place in the universe, all while watching cult films, touting conspiracy theories, and smoking pounds of weed.
What I did like about the novel, my first Jonathan Lethem book, is his writing style, his straight-up ability to describe something and to make me see it, hear it, feel it without being there.
What I didn't like about the novel was that it was rather pointless with a slow, meandering plot. Perkus' quest for the truth seemed more like an exercise in futility fueled by an over-caffinated and stoned, incredibly lonely individual. From the pursuit of chaldrons to the his eventual downfall—with many conspiracy theories in between, mostly aimed at the idea of Manhattan as a false reality—I couldn't help thinking this weird reality could never sustain Perkus indefinitely, nor would his character evolve, except to sink deeper into madness.