Bessie James's Reviews > The Fortress of Solitude

The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem
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's review
Sep 06, 2012

really liked it

The Fortress of Solitude is a big, sprawling book (perhaps a little over-ambitious) but the writing is superb and the characterizations are memorable.

It documents the life of Dylan Ebdus from the time he grows up on the mean streets of Brooklyn. Dylan is a white boy in a very rough, largely black area of Brooklyn. He is befriended by a black kid named Mingus Rude. Their relationship is curious -- Mingus is one of the cooler kids in the school he sometimes attends, Dylan is somewhat nerdy but they bond over comic book characters and playing stoopball.

They both have weird fathers, Dylan's dad is a reclusive artist who earns his money doing science fiction book covers (which he hates) while painstakingly painting an abstract film on celluoid that seems to have no point. Mingus' father is a legendary singer, Barrett Rude Jr. who falls into drug addiction and selling to support his habit. Both boys have missing mums.

The gritty reality of the Brooklyn streets -- "tagging" buildings, hanging out on brownstone stoops, petty thievery, white boys getting "yoked" (head locked) for their lunch money -- is juxtaposed with a strange plot twist. Dylan discovers a ring with magical powers and Mingus experiments with it -- finding he can fly from rooftops on criminals. At first, this seemed like a strange diversion by the author but he doesn't overuse the "gimmick" trap some writers would fall into. He manages to weave it into the story quite well.

We follow the story lines of Dylan and Mingus lives from the seventies up until the year 2000 as well as their fathers.

In summary, I found the book immensely satisfying for its language and imagery to bring alive a world I've never come close to experiencing (I'm from Montana). I would be interested to see a review from someone who lived in those areas of time and place the author describes. If accurate, I would likely upgrade this to 5 stars. There were also a few loose ends -- some obviously deliberate (no pat endings) and others just curious (a movie script writing session that seemed shoe-horned in).

Another thing I enjoyed immensely was the information about R & B and soul singers. This was extremely welll researched. I am a big fan of Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Smokey, etc. If you like this kind of music, you'll really enjoy this book.


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