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Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem

Chronic City (2009)

by Jonathan Lethem

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,1995210,395 (3.55)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 (49)  German (3)  All languages (52)
Showing 1-5 of 49 (next | show all)
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. ( )
  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 |
was dying to read this book, so many good reviews, cult status etc. Self-indulgent, pointless, stoner boring, waste of paper! ( )
  Rdra1962 | Aug 1, 2018 |
I think I am not a rare breed of reader. In many ways I think I read to assuage the disappointment of not having what takes to write. I read as an act of erasure, as though by eliminating all the books I like that have already been written I could stumble upon the outline of the one that's missing because I ought to have written it. In Lethem's Chronic City I felt like I he'd done what I once contemplated as a way to go about writing a novel: make a list of more or less random details you want to talk about (a tiger loose in NYC, a stranded space station, virtual worlds, non-profits providing furnished apartments for dogs, war-free editions of the newspaper, chocolate-scented smog) and then filling in a plot around them. I'm less interested in talking about how well accomplished that task than in mentioning a piece of reader's serendipity that occurred around my reading this book, mostly because I can't find part of it confirmed anywhere. I like to have multiple books going at once, both for the variety and because you end up accidentally encountering cool parallels. In the summers I like to set myself the task of reading 1 short story a day. While reading Chronic City I therefore happened to be also alternating between Kafka and Poe tales (which themselves pair very nicely). The first alignment with the novel was blatant. I had just read Kafka's Investigations of a Dog when Lethem's character Perkus Tooth began quoting from the story! Improbable enough, but the next one was crazier, if murkier. It has to do with the book's Bloomberg-stand-in Jules Arnheim. Poe has a short piece entitled the Domain of Arnheim about a wealthy man who expends his wealth on landscape gardening to create elaborate artificial landscapes. That parallel (for those who have read Chronic City already) can't be a coincidence, right? I googled the heck out of the terms Poe, Lethem, Arnheim, Chronic City and Domain but got nothing. In a scathing review of the book I even read a comment that Lethem's character's "names sound like riddles, which at first makes you think and, later, when you realize none of this is going anywhere, roll your eyes." This one name at least does seem to mean something, the key just happened to be hidden in one of a 209-year-old author's most obscure short stories. Weird. Also, I met Lethem once before I'd ever heard of him. Turns out he lived in my dorm room at my college before he dropped out, and he came to relive old times. I remember standing there awkwardly because I could tell I was supposed to know who he was. ( )
  CGlanovsky | Jun 23, 2018 |
I read this slowly, but not because it's a slow book. It is stimulatingly strange, full of blistering funny details, and has a dark core of philosophical melancholy. I savored it. And I've thought back on what a unique alternate Manhattan Lethem created in this book, simultaneously a kooky near future and somehow an accurately pop-culture-and-celebrity-encrusted 90's. Great satire, like black gold. File with: The Loved One, Cuckoo's Nest, Being There, Catch-22, White Noise, Cat's Cradle, V, Barthelme & George Saunders' stories. ( )
  Chamblyman | May 20, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 49 (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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I first met Perkus Tooth in an office.
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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