Thursday, March 09, 2006

Jonathan Lethem

Jenny Davidson posts a nice appreciation of Motherless Brooklyn, a book I liked quite a bit. In fact, I liked it much better than I did Fortress of Solitude, which she raved about. Though there is plenty of very fine writing in it (the scene where Dylan and Mingus are, as she puts it, "tactfully" surprised by Mingus' father particularly stands out as excellent), much of the later book felt wrong to me, the popular music and comic book references seemed forced, like he was trying too hard to evoke the time. However, going back and reading Jenny's post about it makes me think I may need to reconsider that position, perhaps re-read the book. She quotes this passage:
Positioning, positioning, Arthur Lomb was forever positioning himself, making his views known, aligning on some index no one would ever consult. Here was Dylan's burden, his cross: the accumulated knowledge of Arthur Lomb's smug policies on every possible question. The cross was Dylan's to bear, he knew, because his own brain boiled with pedantry, with too-eager trivia ready to burst loose at any moment. So in enduring Arthur Lomb Dylan had been punished in advance for the possibility of being a bore.
It's been a while, but I do remember this paragraph, now that I see it again. It occurs to me that the forced quality I'm perceiving in the pop culture references may have been the point, the encyclopediac manner in which we gather and harness cultural effluvia. I may have been too hard on Lethem because I recognize that tendency in myself and try to downplay it, because I'm anxious about my own "eager trivia".

I had some other issues with Fortress of Solitude, especially with the last section, but maybe I can lay this particular complaint to rest in my mind.


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