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The Fortress of Solitude

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  23,470 ratings  ·  1,492 reviews
The Fortress of Solitude is the story of Dylan Ebdus growing up white and motherless in downtown Brooklyn in the 1970s. It's a neighborhood where the entertainments include muggings along with games of stoopball. In that world, Dylan has one friend, a black teenager, also motherless, named Mingus Rude. As Lethem follows the knitting and unraveling of their friendship, he c ...more
Paperback, US/CAN edition, 528 pages
Published August 24th 2004 by Vintage Contemporaries (first published September 16th 2003)
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Average rating 3.82  · 
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 ·  23,470 ratings  ·  1,492 reviews

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Violet wells
Fortress of Solitude depicts a world in which there is no such thing as a responsible adult. It might be deemed a coming of age novel except its two central characters, Dylan (white) and Mingus (black), whom we meet when they are both twelve, never grow up even though by the end of the novel they are both in their thirties. Ironically the impoverished Brooklyn neighbourhood where they live does grow up, does become a responsible adult: by the time Dylan is in his thirties, it has become gentrifi ...more
Jason Pettus
Jun 20, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.)

Soon after opening CCLaP in the summer of 2007, one of the first books I had a chance to review was what at the time was Jonathan Lethem's latest, You Don't Love Me Yet; and as long-time readers remember, I found that book to be a nearly unreadable pile of horsesh-t, so bad in fact that it served as
Ian "Marvin" Graye

About the Stars

This novel and review had me perplexed.

I regard myself as a Lethem fan, basically because I loved "As She Climbed Across the Table" so much.

However, both on my first pre-GR reading (in 2007) and my recent re-reading of this novel, I was relatively disappointed. This time, I decided to adhere to my original three-star rating, although this is by no means a recommendation that other readers not read the novel.

The star rating perplexed me for two reasons. One is that I g
Jun 27, 2007 rated it it was ok
I finally finished this thing. It's pretty good, but the first half is so much better than the second half. There is some real magic amidst the nostalgia in Lethem's story of growing up in Brooklyn in the '70s. But the whole beginning seems like it's leading up to some great climax, and that climax never comes. As the main character grows up (an exaggeration for the emotionally underdeveloped thirtysomething he is by the end), he becomes a wanky, self-absorbed snob-rock geek, which may have been ...more
M.L. Rio
Nov 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-i-own, upmarket
Mattia Ravasi
Oct 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

An epic tale of gentrification and crushed hopes, The Fortress of Solitude is one of the densest books I've ever read, each page packed with lives and dreams and misery. It's depressing as fuck and crazy on so many levels, but for the sheer glow of its ambitiousness, it's a pleasure to read for anyone who's passionate about American literature and culture.
Patrick Sprunger
Apr 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Someone looking for something different
Shelves: fiction, favorites
I half expected to find that Jonathan Lethem is one of those authors that readers either love or hate, but was surprised by how mad the people who hate him are. Personally, I fall into the former camp - those who love Mr. Lethem's work. Let me explain why.

Jonathan Lethem creates the most absurd scenarios possible and then crafts ingenious narratives around them. To describe a book like Fortress of Solitude to someone not already familiar with Mr. Lethem's work requires a lot of qualification. To
Colin McKay Miller
Storytelling has changed.

It used to be that stories unfolded slowly, sometimes even lethargically, until rising to the climactic finish. Think about the classics you like—most likely: slow start, strong finish. These days, stories begin at a rapid pace, but seem to lose momentum by the end. When I think about recent popular titles, even ones I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, this disappointment is usually present. Maybe it’s the immediacy of the modern-day culture, but it’s rare to find an ending up to
Jul 07, 2007 rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned
What a shit storm. This is one of the more plodding books I have engaged in my time as a reader. It ranks up there with one of the only other books I have abandoned, Updike's Rabbit, Run. Updike and Lethem also hold the distinction of being some of the worst writers of prose I have encountered. My god, I hate the way they write.

Not recommended.
Sep 26, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: alter egos
I read this a couple years ago, and the main thing I remember about it is that the first half is incredible, while much of the second half is retarded. Maybe now that I myself am older and lamer like the character gets in the book, I'd be able to relate better, and it wouldn't bother me so much.... Anyway, I liked this book a lot. The majority of it's amazing, enough so to make up for the crummy bits, which probably aren't actually that crummy, but only seemed so by comparison.

You have to get up
Ayelet Waldman
Well, this is the one. If you only read one book this year, read this one. It's devastating, brilliant, all those things the blurbs say it is. ...more
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
Second Lethem. Last Lethem.
Now that I've read this book, I share Lethem's amazement that James Wood reviewed it without mentioning the magic ring. Though the ring vanishes for long stretches of time, it is pivotal at several junctures, especially during the final scene between protagonist Dylan Ebdus, whose story of growing up white in non-white Brooklyn during the '70s this is, and his best friend, Mingus Rude, son of a famous soul singer, tagger, and, eventually, claimed by crack and consigned to the prison system. This ...more
Oct 07, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Midway through:
Fortress has been sitting on my shelf for over a year. A recent trip (just returned) to NYC, Manhattan, and a dip of the toe into Brooklyn (DUMBO and W'Burg mostly) helped elevate this book to the top of the list. Hours of plane time from the left to right coast and back again makes for some serious reading time. Indeed, Fortress has thus far lived up to it's reputation, both among GoodReaders and the Lit World in general.

Finished: The second half was in fact better then the firs
Mar 06, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
Portrait of an Artist as a Young Boy in Brooklyn. A Künstlerroman that is a tad uneven. When Lethem has his magic prose ring on, however, the book absolutely floats. At times FoS reminds me simultaneously of that middle space between Chabon and Delillo.
May 01, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fictionalized story of the author's childhood in Brooklyn; at least I hope it is, because if it isn't, then Lethem is depicting as predators, what seems to be every black and Puerto Rican teenager in Brooklyn. If it is autobiographical, then Lethem had the worst luck of any white kid in the history of American urban blight, getting robbed, bullied, and beat up daily throughout his childhood by every black kid that saw him on the street. He depicts this sort of crime and intimidation as a given ...more
Stacey Falls
Mar 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
beautiful and dense with poetry, the fortress of solitude grapples with race, segregation, gentrification, poverty, the loss of the american dream, and disillusionment in a deep, interesting, at times playful and magical, fun and a thought-provoking way.

though at times i felt like i was immersed, up to my ears, in a testosterone world (where there are almost zero important female characters whose presence plays a strong role in the book, and the most significant female character is significant b
Along with The Bronx is Burning which alternates the stories of The New York Yankees and the hunt for The Son of Sam it captured New York in the late 70's perfectly. ...more
Jonathan N
Jan 04, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first half of this book is the best thing I've read in years. The stories of Dylan Ebdus growing up in Brooklyn, dealing with racism and graffiti and superpowers, were amazing. I couldn't put the book down. I loved it.

But then the timeline jumps forward into the 90s. Instead of a shy middle-school student, or a punk poseur teenager, Dylan is a whiny rock journalist in 1999. That's not the book I want to read. I don't care about his problems with his girlfriend or efforts to pitch a movie dea
Megan Baxter
I finished this book and I think I enjoyed it. I didn't love it, but it was an interesting read. Still, something felt missing, and I have orbited around this review for several days, unsure of what I wanted to say or how. Then, unfortunately for Jonathan Lethem, I started reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and with one sentence, she sort of demolished this whole genre. This isn't to say that I suddenly didn't enjoy the book, but the distance I was feeling from it crystallized.

May 19, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, new-york
A fantastic coming-of-age tale set in mid-to-late 1970s Brooklyn. Two motherless boys grow up next door to one another: Mingus Rude, son of an R&B singer, and Dylan Ebdus, son of a University Professor, grow up together on their block following first their passion for comic books (the title is drawn from the name of Superman's secret base in the Arctic) and later their love of graffiti and hip-hop. First and foremost a tale of friendship's makings and falling apart, Lethem also adds a healthy do ...more
Nate D
Sep 22, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lethem's melancholic reworking of his New York childhood nostalgia, perhaps, capturing both the first-hand realism and the somewhat meandering semi-plotting of actual memories. ...more
Aug 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: White boys and would-be superheroes
Recommended to Alan by: A mysterious stranger
Jonathan Lethem's lyrical novel The Fortress of Solitude begins with a forceful act of imagination: Isabel Vendle's arbitrary conjuration of "Boerum Hill" from within the Gowanus neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, despite the absence of any natural elevation, using nothing more than lines drawn on a map.

The girls on wheels were the new thing, spotlit to start the show: white people were returning to Dean Street.
That early sentence stopped me cold, at least for a moment. Gentrification isn't
Oct 25, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have so many mixed feelings about this book.

The entire time I was reading I couldn't stop thinking about how much I hate Jonathan Lethem. He definitely doesn't believe in humanity, and I'm not sure if he actually intimately knows any black or hispanic people. A lot of the characters were kind of caricatures of hood legends that we've all seen before on Law and Order or Crooklyn.

It's racially messy, and most of the messiness stems from its conventionality. Maybe this was on purpose, but I'm no
May 01, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

Oh, and also: thoroughly okay. I could have done without the postmodern flourishes…the fantastical superhero elements of the narrative were sort of handled unwield-ily, as in, they weren’t fantastical enough to really persuade me that yesssssssss! This man can fucking FLY!

What else, what else? I don’t know. Lethem’s special irritating self-aware post-ironic, hipper-and-more-well-read-than-thou attitude can be read allllll over this book
I feel like the ending really saved this book for me. I found the beginning interesting, but had a hard time working through the middle. The race relations in this story seemed very nebulous and conflicted; I may be reading too much into it, but it seemed like the author spoke through Dylan, who was continuously coping with or processing his childhood in a predominantly black neighborhood of Brooklyn. This was a process that never seemed to have a resolution, and I couldn't figure out if this wa ...more
Jonathan Lethem has a unique talent for fantastic narrative structure-- just really great structural chops-- paired with dreadful, dreadful phrasing. Just horrible, embarrassing, aching-to-be-hip kind of descriptions (on the shit list there with Richard Russo and Michael Cunningham).

But the thing is, the sum works. It's a good story, a fully realized novel. Flawed, yes, cloying, sometimes, but a very worthy summer read, and often damn fun.
Apr 20, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction
In brief: No. This book doesn't do it. At all. At any time. I grudgingly give Lethem credit for trying to write the "Great American Novel," but it comes off short and ends up being overtly pretentious. And I can't believe they still wheel this guy out at every literary event happening within 50 miles of Brooklyn. Stop! Please, stop! ...more
Jan 24, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio, fave
I started reading this book solely because I liked the name. I thought I knew what genre it was; I was very wrong. This is as far out of my comfort zone as can be, I guess.

So I'm not really sure why I liked it that much. I really did. It was great. Maybe a new fave. I'm still processing it.

Also, I did get what I asked for: many looks at the various faces of solitude.
May 15, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The American fixation on superheroes increasingly puzzles me. Particularly since those invented by the adolescents (both actual and fully grown) seem to focus on the parts of the world that need them least. Fortunately, that is only one strand of Jonathan Lethem's "The Fortress of Solitude," which is most effective when it focuses on Dylan Ebdus' youth as one of the few remaining white children growing up in Brooklyn (pre-21st century gentrification). There are other strands--the adult Dylan's o ...more
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Superheroes and C...: The Fortress of Solitude (July - August '15) 6 22 Oct 02, 2015 09:27PM  
Should I Continue? 4 51 Jul 27, 2013 06:16PM  
White people from afam neighborhoods and race relations. 2 62 Mar 29, 2012 01:06AM  

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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

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