Chronic City

Chronic City

Book - 2009
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Chase Insteadman, a handsome, inoffensive fixture on Manhattan's social scene, lives off residuals earned as a child star. Capitalizing on the rapturous and heartbreaking love letters he receives from his teenage sweetheart and fiancee, he lives a life of cloistered ease--that is until a pop critic with a conspiratorial countercultural savvy and a voracious paranoia force him to confront the answers to several mysteries tightly intertwined within the tragic fabric of the city itself.
Publisher: New York : Doubleday, 2009.
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 9780385518635
0385518633
Characteristics: 467 p. ; 25 cm.

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SCL_Justin Aug 05, 2017

I was a little disappointed in Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City. It was a bit too aimless for me to really get into, and not weird enough for me to appreciate on those merits. It’s also so specifically about upper-class New York City, I couldn’t really connect to it.

It’s the story of Chase Insteadman, a former child star in a weird New York, where fog enshrouds everything beyond some street and a giant tiger is on the loose tearing up the subway. Insteadman has a fiancee astronaut who’s dying in space and he hangs out with Perkus Tooth, a former film critic, and smokes a lot of weed.

It wasn’t bad, but nothing about the book really got into my head or my guts. I feel like it might reward rereading, but I didn’t like it enough to really want to put in the effort.

d
derekwolfgram
Nov 29, 2010

Jonathan Lethem is an extraordinarily inventive, evocative writer with an incredible gift for creating memorable, engaging characters. Chronic City is his third novel that serves as a paean to New York City. While the first two, Motherless Brooklyn and Fortress of Solitude, are my two favorite Lethem novels, Chronic CIty misses the mark for me.

Of course, Lethem on a bad day is still a fine writer. But this story and its characters simply did not make me care about them (except for Ava the tripod Pit Bull). While the narrative may have been carefully crafted to emphasize the characters' ironic detachment from anything "real," it worked too well. Rather than the deep, nuanced portrait of Lionel Essrog in Motherless Brooklyn, everyone here is a shallow caricature of a different flavor of jaded New Yorker, kind of a postmodern, asexual hipster version of Sex and the City.

Okay, maybe that's a bit harsh. But I really didn't care about these people. There is a genius twist at the end that paints a beautiful picture of unrequited love, but by then it was too late for me. If the novel had been half the length, it might have been more effective. As it is, I'll look forward to Lethem's next novel... every work is always markedly different from the one that comes before. In this case, that's a good thing.

v
vickiz
May 19, 2010

Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem feels like an unfettered frolic around an off-kilter and slightly imaginary Manhattan, but it turns out to be tightly and intriguingly choreographed. Tilting back and forth between the probable and the improbable, Lethem follows seemingly bland, naive former child star Chase Insteadman as he becomes enmeshed with a cast of colourful characters involved in the city's cultural, countercultural and political milieus. Chase absorbs the charms and foibles of an eccentric Lester Bangs-like former rock critic, an attractive but embittered celebrity ghostwriter, a former political radical turned City Hall insider and fixer for the billionaire mayor - and absorbs from afar the wistful missives of a dying astronaut fiancee trapped in the International Space Station.

The increasingly askew city is being menaced by a marauding tiger that can stop traffic and apparently make buildings collapse. The city is further ravaged by peculiar and escalating weather disturbances. As Chase chases his troubled friends around the city and tries his best to give them the different kinds of love and support they demand, he also seems to be chasing some kind of oasis of sanity, safety and predictability in the midst of the maelstrom of a metropolis battered by strange forces. For a time, that safe haven seems to be an apartment building refashioned as a home for abandoned pets. But still, nothing and no one is what it seems to be. In a racing narrative peppered to the end with direct and sly indirect pop references galore, Chase keeps chasing to the last page before he finds sanctuary.

When he does find sanctuary, the special payoff for the reader is that the tabula rasa central character has in fact absorbed and transmuted all of the confusion and deception (much of it unwitting self-deception) and distilled it into an emotionally authentic finish that will resonate for a long time.

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vickiz
May 20, 2010

The world was ersatz and actual, forged and faked, by ourselves and unseen others. Daring to attempt to absolutely sort fake from real was a folly that would call down tigers or hiccups to cure us of our recklessness. The effort was doomed, for it too much pointed past the intimate boundaries of our necessary fictions, the West Side Highway of the self, to shattering encounters with the wider real: bears on floes, the indifference and silence of the climate or of outer space. So retreat. Live in a Manhattan of your devising, a bricolage of the right bagel and the right whitefish, even if from rival shops. Walk the dog, dance with her to Some Girls. Why did Perkus have to be killed for his glance outside the frame? But maybe he hadn't been killed, had only died. And again, maybe absconded. I was sick with ignorance, and my own complicity.

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