Michael's Reviews > Chronic City

Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem
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's review
Dec 16, 2009

it was ok
Read in December, 2009

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 other explanation. Mr. Lethem really needs to get out of the CITY and visit America. A trip to Bloomington, Indiana would be enlightening. He could swim in the granite quarries about which he writes with such authority, if he could find any. I'm sure he saw "Breaking Away" and just forgot that the rock quarried in Bloomington is limestone (used to build the Empire State Building, for example). Although he managed to keep my attention for much of the book, he lost me in the last quarter, which (literally) goes to the dogs. It almost seems that he got to a point where he lost interest in what he was doing or couldn't figure out how to bring the plot lines together. At that point, he cobbled together something that he hoped would be taken for a daring postmodern, metafictional, existential commentary on life and sent it off to the publisher. What he actually produced was a poster of Perkus Tooth's later period or a "chaldron" in the actual meaning of that repurposed word. I imagine Mr. Lethem dreaming of having written another Motherless Brooklyn or Fortress of Solitude and waking to find himself covered with the ashes of "Chronic City." I hope that he will find his next muse by thinking outside the Lucite box and look forward to reading more excellent novels by this talented writer.
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