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Review-a-Day
Esquire
Wednesday, September 24th, 2003


 

The Fortress of Solitude

by Jonathan Lethem

Here Goes the Neighborhood

A review by Adrienne Miller

Jonathan Lethem's intermittently dazzling (but disastrously titled) novel moves through thirty years on Dean Street in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. Our hero (who grows less heroic as the novel progresses) is Dylan Ebdus, white kid, son of a mute, moody painter named Abraham ("[i]n truth, Superman in his Fortress of Solitude reminded you all to much of Abraham in his high studio, brooding over nothing"), and an absentee hippie mother named Rachel. When Dylan's family moves, in the early-seventies, to the pre-gentrified Boerum Hill, they are "pioneers." There are no whites in the neighborhood; not yet, at least. Dylan is harassed at school; the other boys enjoy getting him in headlocks ("yoking" him, they all it), and that's when they're feeling munificent. Thank God for Dylan's neighbor Mingus Rude, who is black, and also without a mother, and who saves Dylan from an otherwise intolerable childhood. The novel, however, loses some of its luster in its second half (the writing here often feels a bit flat), in which we meet the adult Dylan, a callow music writer, who says things about his (black) girlfriend such as: "I thought I could smell that she had made herself a little excited hectoring me." But in Dylan and Mingus's relationship, Lethem has created a profound, sad, and perfectly crafted story.


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