Feature

Novel of the week: Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem

Jonathan Lethem’s new novel occasionally offers a witty vision of New York and a “brilliant” evocation of contemporary alienation, but remains a disappointment overall.

(Doubleday, $27.95)

Jonathan Lethem’s new, 467-page novel would be better as a short story, said Ron Charles in The Washington Post. In fact, it originally was a short story, which appeared in an anthology a few years back. The full-length novel follows a former child actor as he bonds with paranoid former rock critic Perkus Tooth and a small band of other eccentrics. It occasionally offers a witty vision of a slightly off-kilter New York and a “brilliant” evocation of contemporary alienation, but the concept that reality might be a simulacrum is wearying, even when peddled by the likably obsessive Tooth. Much is now expected from the 45-year-old author of Motherless Brooklyn and The Fortress of Solitude, said William Deresiewicz in The New Republic. Chronic City thus rates as a “major” disappointment. Lethem has always written about “failed adults,” but in the past, he faced more squarely their gnawing sense of inauthenticity. This time, he takes their metaphysical ­musings too seriously, and winds up looking immature himself.

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