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Jonathan Lethem

Jonathan Lethem(1964- )
Jonathan Lethem was born in New York and attended Bennington College. His writings have appeared in the New Yorker, Rolling Stone, McSweeney’s and many other periodicals. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

The Fortress of Solitude: Strengths overshadowed

The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem

There are some beautiful moments in The Fortress of Solitude — moments of crystalline description, of poetic evocation of time and place, moments of heartbreaking human interaction. But for me, these moments just didn't hold together long enough or happen often enough.

The Fortress of Solitude follows Dylan Ebdus, known as "whiteboy" to those around him on Dean Street due to the rarity of his skin color, as he grows up and out of the Brooklyn neighborhood. While we see Dylan from age five through middle-age, most of the book focuses on his young teen years and especially his friendship with Mingus Rude, a friendship which goes on and off through the years. Both boys are motherless. Dylan's liberal-minded mother has left him to his painter father who has given up a promising artist career to work obsessively on an abstract painting on ... Read More

Chronic City: More to admire than to enjoy

Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem

Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City has lots to admire: great lines, witty jokes and good insights. Unfortunately, there’s a lot more to admire here than to enjoy. The sum ended up being less than its parts, to me. This may have been part of the point, and certainly the sense of disconnectedness is as well, but one of the dangers of a novel about disconnectedness is that it can feel, well, disconnected. The trick is to avoid this somehow, and I can’t say Lethem succeeds here.

Chronic City is set in an alternate Manhattan where a mysterious “Tiger” is wreaking infrastructural havoc from underground (what the Tiger really is remains a mystery for some time, or, depending on your reading, forever), a strange gray fog hovers over the financial district, and it snows in summer. Over the city, a sick female astrona... Read More

Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology

Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology  edited by James Patrick Kelly & John Kessel

Is there really any difference between post-modernism, interstitial fiction, slipstream and New Weird? Does anyone know? James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel try to outline the boundaries of slipstream with their anthology, Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology, particularly by including a learned introduction and excerpts from a discussion that took place on the subject on a blog a few years ago. Ultimately, like so many things literary, from science fiction to erotica, it comes down to this: slipstream is what I’m pointing to when I say “slipstream.” Yes, there are a few defining features. It’s fant... Read More

Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse

Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse edited by John Joseph Adams

John Joseph Adams assembles a wide variety of apocalypse-related fiction in Wastelands. some of which are older than I am, while others are more recent. What you end up with is a diverse anthology covering topics such as religion, war, and exploration while containing horror, comedy, and a sense of wonder.

The majority of the stories are easy to get into. Some stories are more subtle than others. Overall, Wastelands is an enjoyable read and the selection seems balanced. Having said that, here are my top three stories:

"Bread and Bombs" by M. Rickert is one of the more horrifying stories in this anthology, and this is achieved through her characterization and commentary on society. It's easy to jump into Rickert's text and there is a foreboding established early on w... Read More

The Secret History of Fantasy: Stories that redefine the genre

The Secret History of Fantasy edited by Peter S. Beagle

The basic premise of the SECRET HISTORY anthologies (there's also a science fiction one, The Secret History of Science Fiction, which I haven't read) is that there's a type of writing that got missed or buried because other things were more popular, more commercial, or dodged the spec-fic labeling. Certainly that's the thrust of Peter S. Beagle's introduction, and the two other non-fiction pieces by Ursula K. Le Guin and editor David G. Hartwell.

In the case of fantasy, this type of wri... Read More

Invaders: A high percentage of excellent stories

Invaders: 22 Tales from the Outer Limits of Literature ed. by Jacob Weisman

As with most collections, whether they be of stories, poems, or essays, I found Invaders: 22 Tales from the Outer Limits of Literature, edited by Jacob Weisman, to be a mixed bag overall, with some weak stories, some solidly good ones, some very good ones, and several absolutely great ones, more in fact than I typically find in an anthology, making this an easy collection to recommend.

The authors collected here are non-genre writers known mostly for “literary fiction,” such as George Saunders, Max Apple, Molly Gloss, Jim Shepard, Katherine Dunn, and Junot Diaz. In his introduction, Weisman says the idea for this anthology came out of the responses he saw to an earlier one (from 2009) entitled The Secret History of Science Fiction, which was “intended to be a serious investigation o... Read More

More books by Jonathan Lethem

We’ll list here those books we think most appealing to speculative fiction fans:

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsGun, with Occasional Music — (1994) Publisher: The first novel by Jonathan Lethem is a hard-boiled, noir mystery, a dark and funny post-modern romp serving further evidence that Lethem is the distinctive voice of a new generation. Conrad Metcalf has problems. He has a monkey on his back, a rabbit in his waiting-room, and a trigger-happy kangaroo on his tail. (Maybe evolution therapy is not such a good idea). He’s been shadowing Celeste, the wife of an Oakland urologist. Maybe falling in love with her a little at the same time. When the doctor turns up dead, Metcalf finds himself caught in a crossfire between the boys from the inquisitor’s Office and gangsters who operate out of the back room of the Fickle Muse.

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsAmnesia Moon — (1995) Publisher: The much-anticipated second novel from the author of Gun, with Occasional Music. Since the war and the bombs, Hatfork, Wyoming, is a broken-down, mutant-ridden town. Young Chaos lives in a projection booth therem trying to blot out his present, unable to remember his past. Then the local tyrant, Kellog, reveals to him over a can of dog food that the bombs never fell. The truth is a little more complicated…

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsThe Wall of the Sky, The Wall of the Eye — (1996) Story collection. Publisher: In a collection that places him in the same league as Philip K. Dick and Stanislaw Lem, Lethem offers stories that move from insight to hip, satirical humor with fluid grace, and display a breadth of science fiction imagination that is rooted in the genre yet transcends its boundaries.

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsAs She Climbed Across the Table — (1997) Publisher: Particle physicist Alice Coombs and her colleagues are on the cusp of a great discovery. They have created a void, a hole in the universe, a nothingness they have named “Lack”. Philip Engstrand loves Alice Coombs. The trouble is that Lack is about to come between them.

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsGirl in Landscape — (1998) Publisher: The heroine is fourteen-year-old Pella Marsh, whose mother dies just as her family flees a postapocalyptic Brooklyn for the frontier of a recently discovered planet. Hating her ineffectual father, and troubled by a powerful attraction to the virile but dangerous loner who holds sway over the little colony, Pella sets out on a course of discovery that will have tragic and irrevocable consequences for the humans in the community, as well as the odd and exotic natives. Girl in Landscape is a daring exploration of the violent nature of sexual awakening, a meditation on language and perception, and a homage to the great American tradition of the western.

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsThis Shape We’re In — (2000) Publisher: Lethem, author of the bestselling Motherless Brooklyn, returns in concentrated form — packing twice the adventure into one-eighth the pages. This book could be some kind of allegory book, but it might not be an allegory book at all. It involves people and drinking and people looking for a giant eye. It is among the best things Mr. Lethem has written.