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Chronic City (2009)

by Jonathan Lethem

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,2775410,697 (3.54)55
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.… (more)
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» See also 55 mentions

English (51)  German (3)  All languages (54)
Showing 1-5 of 51 (next | show all)
I quite like this book, but understand that it's not for everyone. The main character is a bit flaky and his best friend kind of a grouch, but there's a ton of NYC references which is fun if you live there. I also enjoyed the chauldron hunt, but the book probably could have been a bit shorter. ( )
  oonalazlo | Aug 18, 2020 |
I rated this book 4 stars at first but changed it to 5. I kept thinking back on it and deciding I wouldn't have wanted Lethem to change much, if anything, about it. It was the best imitation of Philip K. Dick I've ever read - high praise in my opinion. Along with As She Climbed Across the Table the skewed lens through which we view the microcosm he presents is endlessly fascinating. The characters are ridiculous, but that's what makes them entertaining. At first it can seem like a jumble of ideas, bandied about left and right, but by the end they resonate together, harmonize and condense.

I have one nitpick though. The set-up for Julio Cortazar's Final Exam felt too similar. You have these snooty people wandering around the city, it's enveloped in fog, and there is even a mention of an escaped wildcat. I recommend reading Cortazar's book if you liked this one. ( )
1 vote LSPopovich | Apr 8, 2020 |
Did not finish. I was a third of the way through the book and didn't care what happened to the main character, the supporting characters, any of the characters yet to come, or the tiger. My thought? Why would I continue to read this book and waste precious life minutes when I could be reading something I like? So I put it down. There was quirkiness, which generally I find to be amusing, but wasn't enough to lift this book out of a feeling of malaise. ( )
  carliwi | Sep 23, 2019 |
Perkus Tooth has got to be one of the great characters in American lit. I first met Perkus in Lethem's terrific (and free online!) New Yorker short story 'Eva's Apartment', which turns out to be a tiny chunk taken right from the book. Chronic City is definitely not a book you read for plot (although it's not like it doesn't have one) but it's the characters, the riffs, the fabulous writing and his slightly surreal New York City that are so amazing. ( )
1 vote badube | Mar 6, 2019 |
During those infinite summers of junior high, I would spend two or three nights a week at friends and one night hosting others. Such led to largely nocturnal existence, collapsing towards dawn only to wake at noon and go swimming. Role Playing Games, junk food and the new portals of Atari and VCRs extended a rather free reign to explore. One evening we were at my friend David's house, eating frozen pizza and talking about Culture Club. or, maybe, Chuck Norris Suddenly around 1 a.m. David's very pregnant sister came over and said she was exhausted and that we had to go home. It was 1 a.m.! A younger guy, Jason said, no sweat, let's go to my house. This was strange as he lived across the street from my parents and this necessitated our crossing through our yard to access his house. It was around 2 by then and Jason walked in as if it was time for an after school film on ABC. His parents were watching cable and invited us in to gather around the sectional sofa. It was then I noticed they were smoking pot. Oh Shit. I had viewed Scarface (De Palma 1983) several times by then and I was convinced that some narco-hit squad was beginning its assault on the split level ranch house where I sat trembling. Undoubtedly, a few minutes thereafter I would be taken to the bathroom to be disposed of as an example with a chainsaw. I'm not sure i slept much that night.

A similar paranoia underscores Chronic City. Theories threaten the presented (projected?) order. All of NYC is actually a confidence game. Everyone is either an avatar or a bit actor. I was ready to give this two stars. I hated huge chunks of the novel.

I thought the astronaut dispatches were the best element of the novel. Those were quality. Somehow all the unfolding encouraged me. It was a modest reveal. No voila moments. Chronic City's conclusion appeared organic and thus palatable.
( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 51 (next | show all)
Lethem is able to summon all his PK Dick chops, to channel the media-nuts who circulate in literary scenes, to ask important, hard-to-articulate and impossible-to-answer questions about what is genuine, what is artifice, and when it matters.
added by lampbane | editBoing Boing, Cory Doctorow (Dec 4, 2009)
 
“The Fortress of Solitude” was a great novel, but also a chaotic sprawl — it addressed gentrification and race relations and comic books and disco and the prison system and more, on and endlessly on. “Chronic City” is more contained, less greedy in its grasp, and it is even better. It limits itself to a single big theme — but then, it’s the biggest there is: the pursuit of truth.
 
Will Chase be forced to choose between Janice and Oona? Is the tiger rampaging through the city streets a real one or a mechanical contraption that’s part of a government plot? For that matter, are Chase, Oona and all the others playing out roles in a bigger performance-art-like game? Or maybe they’re really avatars in a variation on that old city-building simulation game, SimCity?

In the end the reader simply doesn’t care: these creatures inhabit neither a real flesh-and-blood Manhattan nor a persuasive fictional realm, and they’re so clearly plasticky puppets moved hither and thither by Mr. Lethem’s random whims that it’s of no concern to us what happens to them in this lame and unsatisfying novel.
 
[Lethem's] sprawling new novel, “Chronic City,” is not simply uneven. It’s a major disappointment hobbled by a lack of the basics — plot, character development, motive, structure.
 
The novel functions much like Manhattan used to — a mad scramble of connections made and, more often, missed.
added by Shortride | editEsquire, Benjamin Alsup (Sep 30, 2009)
 

» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jonathan Lethemprimary authorall editionscalculated
Deakins, MarkNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rosenbloom, MiriamCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Dedication
For Amy and Everett
First words
I first met Perkus Tooth in an office.
Quotations
So, was this how it happened? When you finally penetrated the highest chambers of power and gazed into corruption's face, was it neither beautiful nor terrifying, but merely -- Claire Carter's? Apparently so.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (1)

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.

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