Friday, March 12, 2010

Chronic City - Jonathan Lethem

People seem to love Jonathan Lethem. His books are all over recommended reading lists and I've had several people tell me that one of his books is their favorite ever. And because I'm always interested in a book people would call their "favorite ever," I always find myself shelling out for his books. But, there is just something about this writer that I don't understand. My reaction to him is like my reaction to Jonathan Franzen. He seems like a show-off who is too clever for his own good - which is to say that he is a great writer, but his characters are too obsessed with their own banality to merit any interest from me. Chronic City takes place in Manhattan's drug-induced social scene. The main character, a former child actor is dating an astronaut made famous by the fact that she is current stuck in the Earth's stratosphere. The child actor befriends a slovenly pop critic and a self-loathing entertainment ghostwriter, and they engage in conversation an and action all in the search for Truth. And there's also an elusive tiger on the loose in the neighborhood - but I could never figure out if it was real or not. If this all sounds nonsensical, that's basically what I thought the entire time I was reading this. I simply did not care about the characters, and I found each of them individually to be quite tedious, and as a group positively insufferable. I almost didn't make it through this one -but it was the only book I brought with me on a 24 hour trip out of town and I didn't want to break down and buy anything from the airport bookstore. I've culled through many reviews of this book to figure out why so many people love it and declare it a masterpiece. Maybe most of these people are from Manhattan? Or this is the kind of book that appeals to readers who enjoy working for their entertainment - who (perhaps with the help of a few substances) also love Thomas Pynchon and other worldly-genius-but-often inaccesible to us mere mortals -writing. I'm glad I checked it out to see what everyone was talking about, but this just really isn't my kind of book.

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