Saturday, November 25, 2006

Book Review: The Fortress of Solitude

Title: The Fortress of Solitude
Author: Jonathan Lethem
Publisher: Doubleday (US)
Year: 2003

In The Fortress of Solitude, Jonathan Lethem tells the tale of two boys, Dylan Edbus and Mingus Rude, who grow up in Brooklyn. Opening in the 1970s we navigate with them through racial minefields that extend into the 1980s and on to the 90s. And the soundtrack changes with the times. And if that weren’t enough, there’s the issue of superpowers…

This, his sixth novel, is dense and feels very autobiographical. He knows the setting so intimately that you bear the weight Dylan does; you anticipate a yoking when he does; you smell his fear and intimidation. It’s exhausting but you go on; you are simply compelled.

As you and he and Mingus grow up, you feel a certain separation. Indeed, the section set in San Francisco feels disconnected. Perhaps that’s the intent. Maybe Dylan feels disconnected, or wants to feel disconnected, from whence he came. The girlfriend character, Amy, worked in the same manner. She was exceedingly annoying and her dialogue recalled the aimless politically correct circular rhetoric I endured during the same era. Is this good storytelling (meaning the emotional involvement of the reader) or simply cliché? Nevertheless, well evoked, Mr. Letham,

Originally, the Fortress of Solitude was where Superman could hang out and be himself. No pressure. No crime fighting. No girls. Just a room of one’s own, if you will. As one draws to the end, one seeks the fortress, the “middle space,” as Letham calls it, only to find it necessarily fleeting. Finding it in life and in his often poetic novel is decidedly worth the effort

Jonathan Letham’s new novel, You Don’t Love Me Yet, is due out March 2007.
Edward Norton is directing the film version of Motherless Brooklyn, due out next year. Sadly, I only have my hands on the advanced reading copy of the book, not the director of the film.

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