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Chronic City: A Novel Hardcover – Oct 13 2009


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (Oct. 13 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385518633
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385518635
  • Product Dimensions: 2.9 x 16.3 x 23.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 816 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #280,268 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By January Kohli on March 28 2010
Format: Hardcover
A few years ago, I was staying at a friend's cabin and saw "Motherless Brooklyn". Being a sucker for cover art, I picked it up and the weekend plans for socializing were ruined. I couldn't put it down.

I've read a handful of Lethem's other books, and I'd say that this is right up there with Motherless Brooklyn and a Fortress of Solitude. Interesting characters and a dash of surreal.

I did find that it started a bit slow, but once it got rolling I was deep inside the world of Perkus Tooth and Chase Insteadman. After finishing it the other day, I keep churning it around in my head and can't shake it.

If you've enjoyed his other books, I totally recommend it.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 108 reviews
99 of 110 people found the following review helpful
Hipsters Without a Cause Sept. 26 2009
By M. JEFFREY MCMAHON - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I'm a big fan of Lethem's writings. I like his sensibility and always feel he has something compelling to say about the human condition.

Chronic City, like Mark Leyner's Et Tu, Babe, is full of jokes, especially about the hipster crowd. A lot of the jokes have an in-the-know or insider quality. The characters' names, Chase Insteadman, Perkus Tooth, Oona Laszlo, to name a few, sound eerily similar to Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49. There is also Ralph Warden Meeker, the author of a 1,000-page novel Obstinate Dust. This seems like a tongue-in-cheek allusion to David Foster Wallace and his sprawling Infinite Jest. One of my favorite jokes is how film critic Perkus Tooth retypes New Yorker articles in a different font style because he believes their gravitas and persuasion is dependent, not on content, but on the iconography of the New Yorker itself. As a compendium of jokes written to be enjoyed by the literati cognoscenti the novel is hilarious.

Sadly, though, Chronic City didn't work as a compelling and absorbing narrative. In fact, the plot left me incurably cold, emotionally distant, and ultimately frustrated.

Stylistically, the novel is a success as Lethem's language and craft always prove eloquent and polished. But this self-consciously hipster novel suffers from a lacking plot engine, self-indulgent characters prone to long-winded discussions about their esoteric knowledge of the arts, and as such the novel suffers from being more of an intellectual exercise with little emotional power. Its theme of hipsters lacking direction doesn't have enough plot impetus or emotional involvement to be rendered with the kind of power I expect from Jonathan Lethem. Five stars for jokes; three stars for plot line.
65 of 79 people found the following review helpful
What goes around ... keeps coming back. Oct. 1 2009
By Dick Johnson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
In case you miss some events the first time, don't worry Lethem will return to them - and return to them - until you want to scream "Get on with the story! (If there is one.)". Thus went the first half of this book.

Actually there were some attempts to mingle several stories, none of which will push this to the top of Lethem's bibliography. As much as I usually enjoy Lethem, this one was a disappointment.

The whole book is about some amorphous Manhattan of perhaps some not-so-distant future. The characters are equally as formless as they wander without purpose from one juvenile, hedonistic romp with sex, pot and booze, to another. They are equally unwilling to provide meaning to each other's lives - and they are 'friends'.

Of course, no book by Lethem is a total flub. There are always enough zingers and turns of phrase to keep even a lesser effort worth another turn of a page. The interactions of the characters are presented in a noirish style, and where the novel does advance, there were some moments of meaning.

Fortunately, I'll probably have forgotten this one before Lethem releases his next one - and hopefully the next one will have something about it to remember. I suggest you to wait for that next one and give this one a pass.
43 of 56 people found the following review helpful
A fine book, but not for me. Oct. 1 2009
By Theoden Humphrey - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
There's nothing wrong with this book, but it was a mistake for me. I got it because I am an admirer of Jonathan Lethem -- and I still am -- but while I loved "Gun, With Occasional Music" and "The Wall of the Sky, the Wall of the Eye," his literary novels are just too detached and meandering for me to enjoy. I love the way he writes, and there are some wonderful flourishes in this book -- I particularly liked Laird Noteless, the "sculptor" whose works are nothing more than enormous holes in the ground in awkward places, and the moment when the main character, Chase Insteadman, has one of those classic hypochondriacal synaesthetic attacks, when he is overwhelmed by sensation and alienation -- and it turns out he has the flu.

But for the most part, the book felt wrong to me. I need more of a narrative and less self-aware humor. I have also known people like Perkus Tooth, and I don't like them, so sympathy for this guy was hard to drum up. For those who enjoy postmodernist literature, I think this book would probably be a wonderful experience, but I couldn't finish it. Which, of course, makes me feel like a semi-literate buffoon, but there are too many books out there to read, and enjoy reading, for me to spend more time slogging through something that I can't get a handle on.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
struggle and complicity Jan. 18 2010
By Vince Leo - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Saying that Chronic City is a book about male friendship is like saying 2001 A Space Odyssey is a movie about an expedition to Jupiter, meaning not really. Chronic City is actually about representation, about what things "stand for," and about the illusions that result from the late-capitalist infotainment/political industry disruption of the representational framework. Because it is set in an alternative Manhattan full of historical characters and fictional events, locating the real within the pages of Chronic City isn't difficult, it's effing impossible, and that's the point.

The object of the book's and JL's desire is the Manhattan of the late 70s: the innocent rebellion of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe; the theoretical and political maturation of pop music critics; the street art of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. It's nostalgic for a Manhattan that still had within its borders the means to resist the onslaught of the corporate symbolic order. That said, there's no way to prepare yourself for the onslaught of JL's anger, curiosity, and sadness for the world that didn't materialize (or did) from that historic moment of critique. The writing is dazzling: from theoretical discussions on the nature of meaning to grand set pieces with dozens of characters to a narrative so perfectly paced and constructed, its surprise ending will keep you awake for days.

There IS a male friendship in Chronic City: between an actor (a walking, talking, VERY sexual imaginary) and a cultural critic (sorry cultural critics: we're talking ABSOLUTE-ZERO sex), but all the characters in the book participate to the degree to which they interact with the basic relationships of representation and real, truth and big-other power. The story within the story within the story is that reality exists only as we construct it through struggle. Illusion isn't the natural state of things but the measure of our complicity with the world constructed by the powers that be. Unfortunately, it's not that simple and the true accomplishment of Chronic City is how JL imagines the relationship of struggle and complicity as a vast, complex totality, an all-too-human ecosystem of good intentions and lost opportunities. Chronic City is replete with postmodern cynicism and lit in-jokes, but it is also infused with sympathy and generosity for those who seek and fail and continue seeking. In this, JL provides more than a call to arms, he provides a measure of grace, without which the struggle for reality would be neither possible nor worth the effort.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
High (Brow) Jan. 15 2010
By Mark Eremite - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
A cursory reading of CHRONIC CITY is likely to disappoint. On the surface, the book is about nothing more than a handful of stoned Manhattanites who seem to have way too much time on their hands. The central character is a child star living off of his sitcom's residuals and his lingering good looks; his name -- Chase Insteadman -- reveals most of what there is to say about him, although his friends rarely hesitate to call him out for what he is: a wandering ghost of half-hearted urges, most of them sexual.

At the start of the book, Chase befriends a free-lance social critic named Perkus Tooth, who then introduces him to a New York of dying cultural import. Like all over-educated stoners, Perkus often ricochets his line of thought down the paths of conspiracy, meta-meaning, and the power of symbols, but his ramblings are so persistent and self-righteous, no one pays close enough attention when one or more of them turn out to be right. Perkus and Chase live in a Manhattan of the future, where war is a constant presence (at least in the newspapers that Chase never reads), a huge gray fog has subsumed half of the city, a post-modern artist goes about installing huge craters in the city, the air sometimes smells like chocolate, and some kind of sentient presence (that may or may not be a tiger) occasionally destroys a building. Oh, and Chase has a fiance named Janice, an astronaut who is stranded in a space station high above the earth.

Ill be the first to say that what Lethem has done here is brilliant (as usual), although I'm also certain that (not living in New York), I didn't "get" much of what he alluded to. This is, basically, a book about living in a book. It's about solipsism, about the meaning of life, about -- in plainer terms -- what constitutes existence. All of the pot smoking seemed like a contrivance when I first read the book, but now it's clear that Lethem is suggesting something else. Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living, and pot smokers are notorious for relentless examination of even the most disparate of life's minutiae, even if they also fail to do any actual living. Whether pot leads to any actual insight or clarity is up for debate by the good people at NORML and DARE. At the very least, Lethem seems to say, it does take the mind out of its own grooves.

If you give this book any kind of deeper examination, you're bound to close it with the hazy idea that you just learned something seriously important (and interesting) and then promptly forgot it again. Lethem arranges the "plots" -- they are as fragile and inter-related as snowflakes spiraling down from the sky -- so that they clump together at precisely the point when they also melt. The characters search for meaning that is just as elusive -- in particular a collection of spiritually unsettling ceramics known as "chaldrons" -- and perhaps just as real. The fact that almost all of it has to do with an on-line reality game called YET ANOTHER WORLD is also no coincidence.

I'm getting off track. Maybe. It's hard to tell. The interweaving of a treacherous blizzard (how fitting), a ghostwriter (no, she's not an actual ghost...I don't think), and Marlon Brando adds to the cluttered, blue-smoke bluster of the book. It's the closest you can get to being high without injesting anything other than words. Unfortunately, just like most artificial highs, this book leaves behind blanks that you could've sworn were already filled in. By the end of the novel, New York appears to be cranking away under a perpetual snowfall. Just as streets and sidewalks are cleared for use, just as it's certain to where they lead, the faceless sky erases them away -- even just for a moment -- under a blanket of white, and all of the New Yorkers must trudge out and find their way again.

Chase, among all of them, narrates the tale (Lethem cheats several times, narrating a few chapters without Chase's help, a move that is puzzling and detracts from the book, even if it's also necessary) as if it were a handbook on how to live without knowing it. By the end, Chase, like most readers are bound to be, is aware that something larger (sinister?) is going on, but he hasn't the faintest idea what it is or how to deal with it. Mostly he does what everyone else does, and occupies his part of it. The final moment of the book I love, love, loved. The chaldrons mentioned earlier are prized, Chase says, because of their "thingliness," their purity of being. In the last paragraphs, only finally (and maybe, just like a pothead, only vaguely and sweetly) does Chase realize that even if life is confusing, disturbing, and beyond all human scope, it is at least touchable, embraceable, and frameable.

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