Will Dean's Reviews > Chronic City

Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem
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's review
Feb 13, 2012

it was ok
Read in February, 2012

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 the fiction of our own lives, but sometimes others may be creating it for us.

The main problem with the book is that it focuses on the wrong character, or just doesn't do enough to make his journey interesting. Chase Insteadman, is a washed-up former child actor who collects his residuals while he bumbles through his life as the famous boyfriend of an astronaut trapped in space (one of the better flashes of weirdness in the book). He falls into the social circle of a pot-and-caffine addict named Perkus Tooth, a washed-up broadside artist and paranoid culture critic. The other major characters follows a similar pattern -- they've marginalized what was important to their lives (acting, writing, activism) in order to gain access to power, or choose to live in such a marginalized state that their preoccupations are impossible to distinguish from debilitating neuroses. However, they all end up being far more interesting than the narrator and focus of most of the book, Mr. Insteadman. I would much rather have read a book about the travails of Oona, a hack ghost writer, or Richard, a former squatter turned fixer for a Bloomberg-like mayor. Or at least a book partially set in their worlds.

Chase bounces off people more interesting than him and picks up their interests like the empty vessel he ends up being. I wont give away the books big twists, but I'll say this: the ones that happen to Perkus are far more interesting and indicative of the novel's attempted themes than the largest (and most boring) one that involves Chase.

As a parent might say to a misbehaving child: Lethem isn't a bad writer, he's a disappointing one.
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