FS lover, January 1, 2010 (view all comments by FS lover)
The first time I read this book I wolfed it down. Finally a meaty, beautifully-written work. Finally, a book worth talking about when friends ask what I have been reading lately. Finally, a book that I can reach for when I need a passage to illustrate a point or inspire a memory. And finally, a book that takes on race issues in an Obama-worthy way (but written before most of us had even heard of Barack).
When friends love it as much as I do, I feel like they get some part of me that I struggle to describe.
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Jason Spiegel-Grote, January 1, 2010 (view all comments by Jason Spiegel-Grote)
I'm sure this sentiment is shared dozens if not hundreds of thirtysomething white guys, but I do feel like this book was written just for me. I lived a debased, Jersey version of Dylan's journey, growing up as one of the few whites left in an inner city, retreating into a shield of drugs, comics, and homoeroticism. The main difference would be my parents' belated white flight into suburbia, where I learned how much more savage an all-white school could be - that's a sort of badly-kept American secret, that all of the behaviors that white people fear in black people are things that they (we) them(our)selves have mastered for generations.
This is a truly beautiful book. It managed to do a couple of rare things that I always want from literature, but rarely get: first, the sensation that it is articulating things that I have always known on some sort of deep-seated gut level but never had the words for, or even acknowledged as a thing. It threw the world into relief in the way that only great books can. Second, it broke my heart, over and over and over again, seemingly without effort. The bit on the Promenade where the white lady comes over to "save" Dylan while Mingus and his crew vanished literally knocked the wind out of me (or took my breath away, depending on how you look at it), with its sense of longing and missed opportunity, and the awful inevitability of race that is interested in us even if we are not interested in it. I knew the crack epidemic was coming, and yet I wished I could save Barry somehow. Ditto for Mingus' free-fall through the system, Arthur Lomb's transformation into Brooklyn landlord and opportunist, and, well, pretty much everything about Dylan. Third, the utterly satisfying magic-realist narrative arc of the ring, which speaks for itself.
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Vintage Books USA -
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.
"Review A Day"
by Peter Kurth, Salon.com,
"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." (read the entire Salon review)
"Review A Day"
by Adrienne Miller, Esquire,
"[I]n Dylan and Mingus's relationship, Lethem has created a profound, sad, and perfectly crafted story." (read the entire Esquire review)
"Review A Day"
by Ron Charles, The Christian Science Monitor,
"[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." (read the entire CSM review)
"Review A Day"
"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)
by Publishers Weekly,
"[C]onfirms Lethem's status as the poet of Brooklyn....[S]tunning, disturbing and authoritatively observed....Scary and funny and seriously surreal, the novel hurtles on a trajectory that feels inevitable."
by Kirkus Reviews,
"[B]ig, personal, sometimes breathtaking, and sometimes disappointing....[T]errifically entertaining: a fine, rich, thoughtful novel from one of our best writers."
"Lethem is a tremendous writer, and in the first half he uses magnificent language to capture the complexity of a child's worldview....[T]his often-excellent novel labors under the weight of its ambition."
"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."
by San Francisco Chronicle,
"Magnificent....[A] massively ambitious, profoundly accomplished novel."
by Austin 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."
by Mark Harris, Entertainment Weekly,
"[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+)"
by Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times,
"[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."
by Don McLeese, Book Magazine,
"[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."
by Library Journal,
"[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."
"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
by Paula Fox, author of Desperate Characters and Borrowed Finery,
"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."
by Random House,
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 Solitudeis the first great urban coming of age novel to appear in years.
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