互联网 www.en8848.com.cn


健康短文 | 情商短文 | 生活短文 | 保健短文 | 家庭短文 | 健身短文 | 文化短文 | 市场营销 | 爱情短文 | 生活窍门

图书营销 书评短文 文案策划 人文地理 语言短文 音乐短文 谈判技巧 哲学短文 诗歌短文 公共关系 个人报告 演讲短文 宗教短文 写作短文 影视短文 名人明星

Book Review: Chronic City by By Jonathan Lethem

kira86 于2009-12-08发布 l 已有人浏览
增大字体 减小字体
By now, Jonathan Lethem is so identified with his native Brooklyn that when he chose Los Angeles as

By now, Jonathan Lethem is so identified with his native Brooklyn that when he chose Los Angeles as the setting for his last novel — the modest “You Don’t Love Me Yet,” in 2007 — it felt like a vacation or a willful act of misdirection. In fact, though, Lethem’s reputation as a hometown booster rests on the strength of just two books, “Motherless Brooklyn” and “The Fortress of Solitude,” each of which applied a cartographer’s loving attention to the borough. But in four earlier novels and two story collections, Lethem has traipsed all over creation, from Wyoming to the San Francisco Bay Area to the distant Planet of the Archbuilders. Now, in his bravura eighth novel, “Chronic City,” he visits what may be his strangest destination yet: the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

Let an early scene stand in for the astonishing whole. The narrator — a former child star named Chase Insteadman, who lives off the residuals from an insipid 1980s sitcom — is getting to know his new friend Perkus Tooth at a Second Avenue burger joint. Perkus is a cultural critic with a recognizably New York sort of résumé: he achieved underground success with a series of broadside rants pasted around the city, then went mainstream with a column in Rolling Stone before fading back into dissolute obscurity. Yet he has never abandoned his wide-ranging obsessions, which echo Lethem’s own: film, literature, music, media. Now, in a booth at Jackson Hole, he holds forth to the affable, vacuous Chase in a stoned seminar that even in summary takes three pages to relate, jumping from Greil Marcus to Chet Baker to Marlon Brando to the insidious effects of The New Yorker’s choice of typeface. It’s a wonderfully slippery list of references, at once dense and daft, as if Susan Sontag had written alternate lyrics to the R.E.M. song “It’s the End of the World as We Know It.” Werner Herzog, Monte Hellman, Norman Mailer, Frederick Exley! Birthday party, cheesecake, jelly bean, boom!

“Can we have discussed so much the very first time?” Chase wonders. “The New Yorker, at least. Giuliani’s auctioning of 42nd Street to Disney. Mailer on NASA as a bureaucracy stifling dreams. J. Edgar Hoover in the Mafia’s thrall, hyping Reds, instilling self-patrolling fear in the American mind. In the midst of these variations the theme was always ingeniously and excitingly retrieved.”

If you don’t recognize that last sentence (I didn’t), Lethem helpfully confesses in his acknowledgments that he has lifted it whole from “Humboldt’s Gift.” It’s a nifty tribute to another novel about a fraught tutor-protégé relationship, and an unsurprising flourish from Lethem, who once composed an entire essay about artistic appropriation by using sentences pilfered from other sources. But don’t read too much into it. With its broad brush strokes and bright primary colors, “Chronic City” owes less to Bellow (a scrupulous realist, after all) than to antic postmodern fabulists like Pynchon and Rushdie and DeLillo — or, as Lethem also puts it in the acknowledgments, to “everywhere else forever and ever amen.”

Lethem’s Manhattan is an alternate-­reality Manhattan, an exaggerated version where an escaped tiger is rumored to be roaming the Upper East Side and Times readers can opt for a “war-free” edition dominated by fluffy human-­interest ­stories. Instead of terrorist attacks, an enervating gray fog has descended on the financial district and remained there for years, hovering mysteriously. (Mysterious to the novel’s characters, anyway; investigators may want to subpoena DeLillo’s airborne toxic event.) Lethem has been at this long enough that the style has become recognizably his own: knowing and exuberant, with beautiful drunken sentences that somehow manage to walk a straight line.

Here’s Chase, newly recovered from the flu, describing his first post-fever dalliance with his ghostwriter girlfriend, Oona: “That night we started in the fluorescent glare of Perkus’s hallway, like teenagers escaping a party, hands invading outfits, knees interlaced, sagging to the wall until our breathing got too slow and regular and we contained ourselves, shoved out through that subset of Brandy’s smokers drunk enough not to realize they were freezing, then teetered together, hips eagerly jostling, to my apartment.”

And here he is again, arriving with Perkus at the site of a building collapse that may have been triggered by the tiger, “milling in that human amoeba of gawkers as it was brushed back from the scene by policemen and emergency medical workers, though at its outer edge the collective creature grew grotesquely huge, and throbbed, livid and possibly dangerous, faces lit from underneath by sparkling red-and-yellow flares that had been laid like sticks of dynamite at the feet of barricades.”

In Lethem’s earliest work the tricks and extravagances and gymnastic prose sometimes seemed arch or mannered — merely clever — but they have grown steadily more confident, and here they serve the higher purpose of flinging Manhattan onto the page in all its manic energy. When style and subject merge, tics recede into invisibility.

The turbocharged plot of “Chronic City” is too intricate and seamless, and also too odd, to summarize easily. It involves migraines and hiccups and a luxury residence for dogs, and Perkus’s quest for unattainable vaselike objects, called chaldrons, that hold an almost mystical appeal. Stripped to essentials, though, the story centers on the friendship between Chase and Perkus, and on their travels through Manhattan’s social strata: a party at the billionaire mayor’s mansion, a film project at a highbrow production company, all those hours at Jackson Hole.

Chase is in demand at dinner parties not only because of his days as a child actor but also because of a more recent claim to celebrity — his fiancée, the astronaut Janice Trumbull, is stranded on the International Space Station, from which she sends him long love letters that are excerpted in the war-free Times. This space opera is, to tell the truth, kind of a drag on the narrative, but it does create a useful love triangle: Chase needs to hide his affair with Oona lest he disappoint his adoring public. There are other characters too, representing variations on the theme of idealism and corruption, but never mind them. This is really a buddy novel, no less than “The Fortress of Solitude” was. Chase and Perkus are nominally adults, older than Dylan and Mingus in “Fortress,” but they’re just as adolescent. They eat messy burgers; they watch cult movies; they smoke potent weed and indulge in the kind of paranoid conspiratorial philosophizing that can be tedious in real life but thrilling in dorm rooms and fiction (where, after all, somebody else really is pulling the strings). And, improbably enough, we want it to last forever — or at least long enough for Chase and Perkus to save each other.

That won’t happen, of course. Chase is too ditzy and Perkus too damaged for their friendship to survive unscathed. But if they can’t be rescued, they can and do help each other; Chase, especially, starts to wake up and cast aside his blank torpor. (I do mean blank: in one of the book’s less subtle moments, a waitress misremembers his name as “Chase Unperson,” sending Perkus into a fit of giggles.) “Chronic City” is a dancing showgirl of a novel, yet beneath the gaudy makeup it’s also the girl next door: a traditional bildungsroman with a strong moral compass. Under Perkus’s tutelage, Chase moves from placid compliance toward engagement and self-­determination; the actor learns to take action, not just direction.

“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. Lethem once wrote, in an essay about John Ford’s movie “The Searchers,” that an actor “can be placed under examination as icon of a set of neurotic symptoms . . . and yet still operate as a creature of free will and moral relevance, a character whose choices matter.” This is Perkus’s lesson for Chase. Even in an alternate reality — even in a fiction — passion and significance are everywhere if you know where to look.


相关英语学习内容book reviews09 top 10