Caris's Reviews > Chronic City

Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem
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's review
Aug 31, 12

liked it
bookshelves: 2012, kindle
Read from April 27 to August 30, 2012

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 the morning. The few faces you see are distorted by billowing steam and fire light emanating from the burning contents of trash cans. The book’s protagonist, Chase Insteadman, is an actor in the truest sense- everything about him feels artificial. By the end of the story, I found myself wondering if, perhaps, he was a publicity stunt himself. That would make this the story of a made-up guy making up a story.

Which would be kind of cool, I suppose. As it is, though, we’ve got a former actor who is torn between two loves- one in space, another in an emotional cocoon, and neither occupying any space that could possibly be conceived as Chase’s heart. His friends are mirages, all different depending on the angle you view them from. And there’s a tiger on the loose in the city that may or may not be real and may or may not be an attention-grabbing ploy to hide more nefarious doings.

Nothing in this novel feels real. And, to me, that doesn’t, by default, make for a good book. Even if I had enjoyed the verbose, elaborate sentences that made up 96% of the book, I still would have stalled out on that ending, in which every problem is resolved over the course of twenty or so pages. It’s a miracle I didn’t get whiplash from the abruptness of the stop. I don’t like drug novels. This was Lethem, so I gave it a chance. But the whole narrative was shrouded in pot smoke. The conspiracies were uninteresting, and the paranoia was overwrought. It was too much like meeting a really smart person and engaging him in conversation only to realize an hour in that he’s stoned out of his mind.

And that’s why it took me so long to make it through this. In spite of the beautiful writing, it required too much effort to slog through. Not Lethem’s best.
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Comments (showing 1-13 of 13) (13 new)

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message 1: by mark (new)

mark monday sounds like less than 3 stars

Caris Probably should be. The writing is really good, though. That sways me.

message 3: by David (new)

David Did you like The Fortress of Solitude, Caris? (I guess I could just go and look myself...) I thought that book was a jive turkey.

Caris We've actually discussed that at length, David. I'm glad it was as memorable for you as it was for me.

Caris I am going to go weep uncontrollably now.

Caris *commences weeping*

message 7: by David (new)

David Hey! I'm old! Cut me some slack. It's a good day if I can remember how to get to work and back.

Caris I really liked Fortress of Solitude until the craptastic ending.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Motherless Brooklyn is my favorite Lethem so far, though I've only read two novels and a short story collection. Nothing's wowed me into five-star territory but MB was pretty close.

Caris I actually started this one because of the good things I'd heard about Motherless Brooklyn. Much to my surprise, I realized I'd mixed up the titles after I'd started.

message 11: by David (last edited Sep 04, 2012 05:09PM) (new)

David That's cool, Caris, but have you read Fortress of Solitude yet? If so, I'm interested to hear your take on it...

Caris I'm sure I'll get to it one day.

message 13: by Jason (new)

Jason it's a little too blotted? that's the word on npr

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