Kasandra's Reviews > The Fortress of Solitude

The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem
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's review
Mar 05, 11

Read in March, 2011

I really liked parts of this so much they were 5 stars, but really didn't like other parts and would have given 1 star, so the 3 is a balance of reactions. I liked this with a lot of reservations. My favorite parts: certain descriptions of growing up in the 70s as a white kid in a mostly poor urban black neighborhood were right on, from the music to the lingo to the street games to the local made-up jingles about cheap sneakers. His: "Rejects, they make your feet feel fine, rejects, they cost a dollar ninety-nine." Mine, heard growing up in the Pine Chapel projects, Hampton, VA: "If your shoes slip and slide, take 'em back to Pantry Pride" (which was the local grocery store).

The moments of authenticity were clear and funny and nostalgic. And, the description of the protagonist's artist dad and hippie mom and their relationship with their son was well-drawn. What I didn't like: the slang seemed often not to jibe with what I remembered, though apparently terms like "snap" and "fly" came along earlier in Brooklyn then they did to my neck of the woods. The parallels that Lethem tried to draw between the two fathers often fell flat or seemed too coincidental to be believed. Rachel as a character was never fully drawn or explored, and left hanging at the end, kind of a mysterious device, sure, maddening, and maybe that was partly the point, but mostly as a reader I found it frustrating. Dylan turns out to be someone I rooted for less and less as the book went on, who I disliked more and more as he got older, which I suppose was kind of the point, but still. There were many times when I almost set this book aside and gave up.

Much of the story at the end seemed rushed and forced, particularly how Mingus' later story unfolded. Felt like the story got to be more of an assignment or a task to complete than something Lethem was totally personally invested in by that point. The Mingus parts of the story, as time goes on, just didn't ring true for me, they didn't feel as fully fleshed out as the rest, as 3-dimensional. A mixed bag. Not sure I'd read another of his books unless it came highly recommended, since this was a haul to get through/keep faith in throughout, after so much hype has built up around this author. Oh, and the superhero/ring aspect? Totally unnecessary as a symbolic device. The story would have been better without it, I think.

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