Mary's Reviews > Chronic City

Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem
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Dec 06, 2009

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Read in July, 2011

I would rate this book “hard to rate.”

Immediately after finishing it, I simply could not summarize what it was about or why I read the entire thing. I felt like I needed a debriefing session. Now, two weeks or so later, I’m reading other people’s reviews to try to understand this novel. That I’m puzzling over it is, I think, mainly a testament to Lethem’s “line by line, paragraph by paragraph, warehouse of prose delight [and] generally engrossing story, despite a lack of plot” as another reviewer put it.

To echo reviewer Elaine Chiew, the lack of plot wouldn’t be a problem if I only cared about the characters, but I didn’t. Other reviewers, who liked the book more than me, seem to back up this idea, citing things like “relating to the character of Perkus Tooth” and that they “love books about stoners.” For me, the constant use of mind-altering substances undermined Lethem’s central idea: questioning reality, or “the real.” If reality is, in fact, a magical, shifting, and sometimes-sinister illusion, then why must the characters alter their perceptions artificially in order to experience that? Instead of transporting the reader into an extraordinary world, Lethem’s pot-smoking characters make these scenarios quotidian.
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