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The Fortress of Solitudeby Jonathan Lethem
Lethem's ambitious new novel introduces readers to Dylan Ebdus and Mingus Rude, two boys, best friends, growing up in 1970s Brooklyn. Dylan is white. Mingus is black. Raised by sullen, single fathers, together and alone the young neighbors awaken to life like loosed animals on the streets. From their unlikely, conflicted friendship Lethem concocts a magical portrait of class and race, art and commerce, confinement and escape.
"Lethem is the new poet of Brooklyn — the new Whitman, even, whose bold imagination and sheer love of words defy all forms and expectations and place him among this country's foremost novelists....To say that Lethem bends the rules, pushes the envelope and extends the possibilities of fiction is to state only part of the case. He's defiant, delicious, in his refusal to be pinned....The book is a Bildungsroman in the exact sense, the story of Dylan's self-development in the context of place and time. It's also a comedy, a history and a fantasy, where the strange and supernatural mix freely with the solid and austere, as they do in life, in memory, in everyone's autobiography." Peter Kurth, Salon.com (read the entire Salon review)
"[I]n Dylan and Mingus's relationship, Lethem has created a profound, sad, and perfectly crafted story." Adrienne Miller, Esquire (read the entire Esquire review)
"[A] novel of boundless energy and startling insight about the conundrum adults impose on children by demanding that they live the ideal of integration that we've been unable to demonstrate ourselves....Lethem's mock-heroic voice, full of innocence and mischief, perfectly captures the challenges of childhood, the desperation to belong, the acute sensitivity to embarrassment, the unquestioning endurance of adults' absurd behavior....This is daring stuff, as dazzling for its style as for its politics." Ron Charles, The Christian Science Monitor (read the entire CSM review)
"There is a genuine atmosphere of cognitive novelty; Lethem manages to combine childish innocence and adult knowingness (not just childish knowingness) in ways that ought to fail but invariably delight and intrigue.
And Lethem delights and intrigues in the end because, while a perfectly adept theorizer, he is a much better painter. His street scenes, his pictures from childhood, have a true coloration; they are drawn, not just spoken....Alas, the thirtysomething Dylan turns out to be a vague character; he talks like Lethem's prose, which is pleasant when the prose is good, but is hardly very distinguishing....It as if the delicate balance of the novel's earlier style has been turned inside out." James Wood, The New Republic (read the entire New Republic review)
Synopses & Reviews
This is the story of two boys, Dylan Ebdus and Mingus Rude. They are friends and neighbors, but because Dylan is white and Mingus is black, their friendship is not simple. This is the story of their Brooklyn neighborhood, which is almost exclusively black despite the first whispers of something that will become known as "gentrification."
This is the story of 1970s America, a time when the most simple human decisions — what music you listen to, whether to speak to the kid in the seat next to you, whether to give up your lunch money — are laden with potential political, social and racial disaster. This is the story of 1990s America, when no one cared anymore.
This is the story of punk, that easy white rebellion, and crack, that monstrous plague. This is the story of the loneliness of the avant-garde artist and the exuberance of the graffiti artist.
This is the story of what would happen if two teenaged boys obsessed with comic book heroes actually had superpowers: They would screw up their lives.
This is the story of joyous afternoons of stickball and dreaded years of schoolyard extortion. This is the story of belonging to a society that doesn't accept you. This is the story of prison and of college, of Brooklyn and Berkeley, of soul and rap, of murder and redemption.
This is the story Jonathan Lethem was born to tell. This is The Fortress of Solitude.
"[C]onfirms Lethem's status as the poet of Brooklyn....
"[B]ig, personal, sometimes breathtaking, and sometimes disappointing....
"Lethem is a tremendous writer, and in the first half he uses magnificent language to capture the complexity of a child's worldview....
"Glorious, chaotic, raw....One of the richest, messiest, most ambitious, most interesting novels of the year....Lethem grabs and captures 1970s New York City, and he brings to it a story worth telling." Time
"Magnificent....[A] massively ambitious, profoundly accomplished novel." San Francisco Chronicle
"The finest novel of the year, by far, and likely of the past five....Better than a movie, better than a symphony, better than a play, and better than a painting, because it is all of them." Austin Chronicle
"[A] stunner...flawlessly evoked, original, and vividly imagined....The final 200 pages maunder, deflate, and stumble through time....As long as Fortress stays earthbound, it soars. (Grade: B+)" Mark Harris, Entertainment Weekly
"[D]azzling but fundamentally flawed...at once wildly ambitious and quietly intimate....Mr. Lethem has written a novel with many defects, but a novel that nonetheless attests to his potent storytelling talents." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"[E]motionally compelling....Transcending category while defying expectation, the book starts out sounding like Richard Price, morphs into an unlikely Nick Hornby-Michael Chabon hybrid and resolves itself as only a Jonathan Lethem novel can." Don McLeese, Book Magazine
"[S]prawling, ambitious....[W]hile Lethem is an impressively savvy writer on race, women come and go without adding much weight to his story. This flawed but daring work is recommended for all general collections." Library Journal
"Lethem has done a number of things here, any one of which is impossible for any but the very finest novelists. He has vividly and lovingly and truthfully, through thrilling evocation of its music, its popular culture, its street games, argot, pharmacology, social mores and racial politics, recreated a world, a moment in history that I would have thought lost and irrecoverable. He has created, in young Dylan, a genuine literary hero. He has reinvented and reinvigorated the myths of the superhero, of black-white relations, of New York City itself. But most of all, from my point of view, he captures precisely — as only a great novelist can — how it feels to love the world that is, on a daily basis, kicking your ass." Michael Chabon, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and Wonder Boys
"The Fortress of Solitude is luminous, stinging with truth and life. A story of two boys, a Brooklyn story, an American story that gives in its very specificity the force of the universal." Paula Fox, author of Desperate Characters and Borrowed Finery
The Fortress of Solitude is the story of Dylan Ebdus growing up white and motherless in downtown Brooklyn in the 1970s. Its a neighborhood where the entertainments include muggings along with games of stoopball. In that world, Dylan has one friend, a black teenager, also motherless, named Mingus Rude. As Lethem follows the knitting and unraveling of their friendship, he creates an overwhelmingly rich and emotionally gripping canvas of race and class, superheros, gentrification, funk, hip-hop, graffiti tagging, loyalty, and memory. The Fortress of Solitude is the first great urban coming of age novel to appear in years.
About the Author
Jonathan Lethem is the author of five novels, including Motherless Brooklyn, which won the National Book Critics Award. He is also the author of the story collection The Wall of the Sky, the Wall of the Eye and the novella This Shape We're In. His writings have appeared in The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Harper's, The Paris Review, McSweeney's, and many other periodicals. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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