Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Chronic City” as Want to Read:
Chronic City
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Chronic City

3.53  ·  Rating details ·  8,418 ratings  ·  1,124 reviews
The acclaimed author of Motherless Brooklyn and The Fortress of Solitude returns with a roar with this gorgeous, searing portrayal of Manhattanites wrapped in their own delusions, desires, and lies.

Chase Insteadman, a handsome, inoffensive fixture on Manhattan's social scene, lives off residuals earned as a child star on a beloved sitcom called Martyr & Pesty. Chase owes h
Hardcover, 467 pages
Published October 13th 2009 by Doubleday (first published 2009)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Chronic City, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Chronic City

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.53  · 
Rating details
 ·  8,418 ratings  ·  1,124 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Chronic City
Krok Zero
Jul 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fall-2009
I thought I was done with this simulacrum bulls**t. Really, I did. One of the reasons why Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, NY failed to impress me as a mind-blowing masterpiece was its (to my mind) lazy employment of this most common of postmodernist tropes, this tired hand-me-down from Dick and Ba(udri)llard and The Matrix and eXistenZ and etcetera whatever nevermind. I wished for a moratorium on films and books incorporating the idea that WHAT IF REALITY IS JUST, LIKE, AN ILLUSION, MAN, and all i ...more
Jack Tripper
Chronic City will most definitely NOT be a 5-star book for everybody (as evidenced by the mixed reviews here) so here's a simple test to help determine if it will tickle your fancy or not. Please choose the answers that best describe your feelings:

1. I find Richard Linklater's semi-surreal, conversation-based films such as Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly (possibly Slacker as well) to be:

A. Mostly amazing, makes me think deep thoughts
B. Pretty good, nothing special
C. Boring
D. Don't know, never w
Violet wells
In which Lethem tackles paranoia and conspiracy theory, in other words, DeLillo and Pynchon territory.

There’s a wonderful book struggling to get out of this rambling oblique farce of a novel. The full blooded obsessive vigilance of conspiracy theorists would make a great subject for a modern novel – the watchdogs who watch the watchdogs, an informed elite calling to account a sinister informed elite at the other end of the political spectrum. I watched a video yesterday where a guy examined fram
Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
Nov 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Moments of 5-star writing here but I found myself unable to have the kind of deep, caring engagement with the story arcs and characters that such a rating generally requires. That said, the book was fully entertaining all the way through. Jam-packed with humorous and thoughtful riffs and meta-riffs on pop culture, avant garde art, stoned philosophizing--all pulled through the looking glass of Lethem's penchant for Noirish Mystery and geekish cataloging. Clever but not too-clever.

The most enjoya
Oct 17, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Shortly after a bout of sobriety and a return to Portland, from Las Vegas, I had the pleasure of seeing Jonathan Lethem give a reading in the building where I work. I've expressed opposition to public readings before, or at least a considerable amount of disdain toward an interest in the celebrity status of certain authors; admittedly a preoccupation or opinion derived from William Gaddis's thoughts on the subject. I was in total agreement with this man about how irrelevant it was to endlessly p ...more
I was enthralled with this strange tour of the dope-inspired concerns of a contemporary group of Manhattanites. They form a circle of friends around a visionary former rock critic named Perkus Tooth. The portrait rendered of New York as a “pocket universe” for these characters seems like a pleasant cross between the disturbing delusions in novels by Philip K. Dick and the fun self-fulfilling quests in Vonnegut tales. From hybrid vigor, the offspring is satirical but not vicious, solipsistic but ...more
Eddie Watkins
Nov 29, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: american-fiction
Long live Perkus Tooth! He must live, he is our Don Quixote, our post-9/11 innocent (even chaste) madman making of his own delusions (or, as I prefer, his own powers of imagination) a marvelously engaging and living world, the living world of this extremely entertaining novel.

Tooth is at war with illusion, using his own illusions as weapons, and it’s this clashing of culture’s false illusions and Tooth’s real illusions that creates life. There is nothing real, or rather the real exists at basic
Jul 06, 2010 rated it it was ok
I had to force myself to finish this one. I love Lethem's style and concepts, but this story lacked any real plot in my eyes - the characters are quite unlikeable. Chase is unsympathetic and Perkus was a stereotypical smart-yet-weird, stoner, faux-intellectual. The story wasn't entirely boring, but it was cliche in some aspects. I couldn't empathize with a lazy once-actor, nor with an evidently smart but absolute nutter like Perkus. He reminded me of those people who smoke weed and discuss consp ...more
Mar 06, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2011
“Don't rupture another's illusion unless you're positive the alternative you offer is more worthwhile than that from which you're wrenching them. Interrogate your solipsism: Does it offer any better a home than the delusions you're reaching to shatter?”
― Jonathan Lethem, Chronic City


I really wanted to like Chronic City. I really wanted to enjoy Lethem's latest NY story. Sorry, no go. The problem is Letham falls straight into a void, a hole, existing between Michael Chabon and William Gibson. D
Jan 08, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
My favourite German word is bummel, (I also am very fond of the word Schmetterling just becuase it is so very unevocative).

At its very best this book is a bummel, defined to copy paste from jerome k jerome

"A 'Bummel'," I explained, "I should describe as a journey, long or short, without an end; the only thing regulating it being the necessity of getting back within a given time to the point from which one started. Sometimes it is through busy streets, and sometimes through the fields and lanes;
Mattia Ravasi
May 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Video review

For everybody who's ever felt like their city constitutes the entire universe. Its orderly structure makes its roaring madness navigable, accessible, even homely. Possibly Lethem's funniest, most addictive, best book - and the man has written some incredible stuff.
Oct 07, 2013 rated it liked it
During those infinite summers of junior high, I would spend two or three nights a week at friends and one night hosting others. Such led to largely nocturnal existence, collapsing towards dawn only to wake at noon and go swimming. Role Playing Games, junk food and the new portals of Atari and VCRs extended a rather free reign to explore. One evening we were at my friend David's house, eating frozen pizza and talking about Culture Club. or, maybe, Chuck Norris Suddenly around 1 a.m. David's very ...more
Dec 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is my favorite of Lethem's novel thus far. Fortress of Solitude had moments of brilliance, but the language felt too wanna-be DeLillo. Motherless Brooklyn was a bit dull for me, though others I know really love that book. I resent his novel about Silver Lake--I have not read it, nor will I. I realize it's merely "an entertainment" in an ouevre of more serious books, but after spending a whole novel complaining about the gentrification of Brooklyn, why go and write a novel about an east-side ...more
Marc Weidenbaum
It was inevitable, perhaps.

Chronic City is the book with which I acknowledge to myself that Jonathan Lethem has joined the ranks of Don DeLillo, Paul Auster, Nicholson Baker, Joanna Scott, William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, and so many others -- which is to say, he has left the vaunted zone of Those Who (to Me, At Least) Can Do No Wrong, and he has entered the zone of Those Who I Still (Kinda) Really Like (Most of the Time). David Foster Wallace had made a similar move, around the time of Hideous
Nov 04, 2009 rated it did not like it
I was looking forward to reading this book, I really was. But as I got farther into it, hoping that something interesting would happen, I found myself wanting to do other things -- pretty much anything else, including dusting and emptying the dishwasher -- rather than read this book.
Lethem gives us a motley crew of Upper East Side oddballs to start “Chronic City.” Chase Insteadman, child star of a TV sitcom, now lives comfortably on royalties but is dealing with renewed publicity as the fiance o
Nate D
Dec 29, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2010
A floating fresco of urban renewal, outsider cultural criticism, and the puppet-strings of power. Lethem's Manhattan is an island of literalized metaphor and dreamlike sets, one which he is nonetheless able to convey with a sort of conviction through an often thoroughly believable cast (all improbably Dickensian names and satiric caricatures aside). As usual, he's immensely readable, his plotting incongruous but ultimately convergent. Perhaps a little overly convergent, as after a while it start ...more
Will Dean
Feb 13, 2012 rated it it was ok
I suppose it says something about my opinion of Jonathan Lethem's work that I liked Chronic City more than I thought I would (and far more than the cover, which reminds me of the box for SimCity, forecasts). Not nearly as good as his best books, but not nearly bad as his worst, Chronic City will probably be forgotten by most of the people that read it, and that's ok. It's an enjoyable enough book, and has a few flashes of great invention, but misses the promise of its premise: that we all create ...more
Nick Lomonossoff
Feb 09, 2010 rated it it was ok
Apologies in advance to all fans of Jonathan Lethem, but I found 'Chronic City' an incredibly silly, overblown and tedious book. The author never seems to be able to decide whether he wants to create a kind of Pynchonesque delirium, in which eclectic literary artifact matters more than character and plot, or a simple comedy of manners set in Manhattan - and the result is an uneven mess. He never really answers the question (if he ever even considered asking himself) why the general reader should ...more
Jul 31, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-2009
Dazzlingly ambitious! Breathtakingly insightful! Flawlessly, flawlessly written!....And an absolutely unbearable slog to read. This book made me so angry. Lethem is clearly a genius -- he writes like no other and thinks like no other -- but a good novelist he is clearly not. Jonathan, listen to your editor (or get a good one)! This should have been a collection of essays/stories or connected thought-pieces on city life (like his fellow Brooklytterati Colson Whitehead's great Colossus of New York ...more
Nov 05, 2009 marked it as to-read
Well, I've been wary lately of Jonathan Lethem, who I hear has put out a few clunkers since the stunning Fortress of Solitude. But here's a quote of his about this book from an interview with Brooklyn Based: "One of my thoughts to myself when I started this book was that it was kind of an interminable and nightmarish Seinfeld episode–the three guys and the girl hanging out in the apartment having these self- obsessed conversations about nothing."

Sign me up!
Jeff Lacy
Aug 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An intriguing witty read. Vividly and tightly written, edgy dialogue and characters, especially Perkins Tooth that is the center of this ensemble and propels to a great extent the plot. The story is about distraction, whether it is about an unseen tiger lurking the streets of Manhattan and disrupts the subway, traffic, and collapses buildings, the astronauts dying on the stranded space station, the purported romance between one of the astronauts and the protagonist, a former tv child actor, Chas ...more
Mar 30, 2011 rated it it was ok
I'm generally a huge fan of Mr. Lethem's prose, but this book eludes me. There's a great play with the thematic twinning of fake versus real, whether Manhattan itself can be a sort of illusionist dreamscape with its flotilla of rich upper-crust East Siders, its quirky on-the-fringe inhabitants, its hobos and entrepreneurs and underground trade denizens. I was more than once reminded of Matrix, especially when the discussion centered around simulated reality, but in the end, I'm just puzzled. Tha ...more
May 16, 2010 rated it it was ok
For a few days I thought of not reviewing this book. I was so angry with it I just felt it would be a review full of venom. But as the days have passed and I’ve moved on to another book and the duties of daily living, my anger has dispersed.

Chronic City is an exploration in a wordy world of meaningless. Jonathan Lethem has written books I really like. That’s why reading this book for me was so difficult to take. Lethem force feeds us the lives of Chase Insteadman and Perkus Tooth. Yes those are
Nov 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
As of page 130-something, better than Bonfire of the Vanities. Or is it Bonfire as told by Philip K Dick? Obsessive, funny, and tragic all at once.

Finished this last night.
Every once in a while, a book comes along that so clearly articulates how you feel about: cities, the internet (virtual realities, avatars), 9/11, NYC, love, sickness, and death. This is that book for me.
My wife and I have a long running gag about a friend who refers to About a Boy as "Life changing". Well is Chronic Ci
Feb 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
I wanted to like this book and I'm not so sure I didn't.

Knowing that Lethem described his initial idea about this book as ostensibly a seinfeld episode, four people sitting in an apartment riffing about nothing at all, provides a wee bit of context.

The subplot I wish Lethem delved further into was the relationship between the protagonist and his astronaut wife who is stranded in space. I found myself making a mental list of all the possible implications, symbolism, and metaphors this carries. Th
Dec 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
A smart and really enjoyable novel about navigating simulacra, authenticity, and free will. It makes me think of another book I really liked, The Invention of Morel, that explored the same themes in a much more minimalist way. Lethem's book has the added bonus of compelling, well-drawn characters and an involving plot. I'm not knocking the Invention of Morel - it's just that book is more of a thought exercise. Chronic City was fascinating to think about, well written, and enjoyable all around.
Chronic City Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem is a blithe flume of a book, looping off in multiple tangents, pissing on sacred cows.

I am ruminating on a review...
Apr 23, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Manhattanites, Manhattan-drinkers and all you poor exiles from the City
Recommended to Alan by: Previous work and a complicated setting
Feverish and insular, Chronic City creates a whole world out of a few city blocks, on an island which is itself a mere 33 square miles in area (just about the same size, I found out recently, as the wilderness of Oregon's own Sauvie Island). It's a world where the far side of a city park can be an exotic and difficult tourist destination:
"The West Side was a mysterious distance from the East, the howling park between us and home." (p.61)
Lethem does a fine job of portraying people just like the c
May 08, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, new-york
New York City, but slightly different: ominous fog and a snowy winter that won't end, a tiger roaming the streets and causing destruction, a conceptual artist who digs huge pits in locations around the city. The New York Times publishes a war-free edition. To fill this edition, there is a need for non-war news. Chase Insteadman, former child star/current lightweight celebrity and socialite, and his fiancee, Janice Trumbull, make up a part of these headlines. Janice is an astronaut currently stuc ...more
Dana DesJardins
Feb 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
I haven't enjoyed a book so much in ages. It is laugh out loud funny and the contemporary cultural references to bands, places, and pop icons make you feel smart. Then Lethem throws us a curve by inventing events, like a chocolate smell that engulfs Manhattan, that are just close enough to what really happened to be reminiscent and send you to google for confirmation. That seems to be the point: his characters talk about Baudrillard and virtual worlds theory even as his novel enacts the philosop ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Jonathan Lethem 10 12 Nov 05, 2015 06:37PM  
Aggressive Readin...: Um - Guys ... Tiger Loose in Seattle! 5 7 Dec 22, 2013 08:20PM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • Underworld
  • The Body Artist
  • Telegraph Avenue
  • Red Pill
  • Like Life
  • Lush Life
  • Wonder Boys
  • Falling Man
  • Pulphead
  • The Force: The Legendary Special Ops Unit and WWII's Mission Impossible
  • The Mysteries of Pittsburgh
  • The House on Garibaldi Street
  • 50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple's Extraordinary Rescue Mission into the Heart of Nazi Germany
  • The Last Jews in Berlin
  • Yiddish: A Nation of Words
  • Blooms of Darkness
  • To the Edge of Sorrow
  • Above Suspicion
See similar books…
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

Articles featuring this book

While New York is never named in this apocalyptic phantasmagoria, Delany is a child of Harlem and Greenwich Village, and Dhalgren is really a...
5 likes · 0 comments
“...Don't rupture another's illusion unless you're positive the alternative you offer is more worthwhile than that from which you're wrenching them. Interrogate your solipsism: Does it offer any better a home than the delusions you're reaching to shatter?” 18 likes
“Today the tower's flock, the usual birds, flew in a kind of scatter pattern, their paths intricately chaotic, the bunch parting and interweaving like boiling pasta under a pot's lifted lid. It appeared someone had given the birds new instructions, had whispered that there was something to avoid, or someone to fool. I once heard Perkus Tooth say that he'd woken that morning having dreamed an enigmatic sentence: "Paranoia is a flower in the brain." Perkus offered this, then smirked and bugged his eyes--the ordinary eye, and the other. I played at amazement (I was amazed, anyway, at the fact that Perkus dreamed sentences to begin with). Yet I hadn't understood what the words meant to him until now, when I knew for a crucial instant that the birds had been directed to deceive me. That was when I saw the brain's flower. Perkus had, I think, been trying to prepare me for how beautiful it was.” 4 likes
More quotes…