Wednesday, April 21, 2010

CHRONIC CITY by Jonathan Lethem

Los Angeles may be Tinseltown, but this book is full of frivolous New Yorkers. Chase Insteadman is a former child star and socialite, living off of his TV residuals. He enjoys a life of endless dinner parties and is well-known as the fiancĂ© of Janice Trumbull, an astronaut stranded in space. Obviously, Chase really is an "insteadman," or a stand-in, or basically a handsome face with not much substance, inhabiting other people's lives, both on-screen and off. He becomes friends with Perkus Tooth, who is just the opposite—not much to look at but with a magnetic personality, if you like a lot of name-dropping of obscure movies and books. Chronic City is all about separating the real from the fake, or, in many cases, the "something" from the "nothing." There are a lot of symbolic voids, including a restaurant named Jackson Hole that becomes—you guessed it—a hole. Chase, Perkus, and a couple of other characters become obsessed with a kind of vase called a chaldron that is only seen in photos. There's even an artist named Noteless who specializes in creating voids. Finally, Perkus develops a "chronic" case of hiccups, so that there are holes in his sentences. And the city itself reaches the pinnacle of fakery when it blames all sorts of destruction, including the collapse of Jackson Hole, on a loose tiger, which may just be a euphemism for a piece of earth-moving equipment run amok.
Amazon: 3.5 stars (76 reviews)
Barnes & Noble: 3.5 stars (23 reviews)

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