This book takes as its starting point Lethem’s characteristic collisions and mutations of genres – detective fiction and science fiction; road narrative and science fiction; coming-of-age stories on extraterrestrial frontiers. It proceeds chronologically and takes as its main focus Lethem’s novels, with reference to related short stories. The chronological approach is appropriate because it shows how the bold, rather ostentatious genre clashes in early novels make way for more subtle genre mergings later on. It also indicates the shifts in tone and emphasis as Lethem moves from LA, where the early novels were written, to Brooklyn, his childhood home, and back again. The book analyses the specific purposes of Lethem’s genre experiments. Despite claiming in interview that he has never really grown up, and that he writes the way he does partly to make himself laugh, it is argued that he uses genre frameworks to question the organising principles through which individuals confront or avoid the complexities of their lives, principles which may require a reduction in freedom or individual self-expression. As such his subversion of genre is not simply postmodern game-playing, but in its own way politically motivated.
Amnesia is a kind of immobility. To obliterate connections between past and present is to preclude the possibility of movement or change in the future, to condemn oneself to the anaesthetised drudgery of the endless present. It is appropriate, then, that Jonathan Lethem so often employs spatial metaphors in his interrogations of the condition of American amnesia. In Amnesia
-fi picaresque inside an animal’s body? And what happens when a kangaroo develops the power of speech and starts wielding a gun? The punchlines are all to be found in Jonathan Lethem’s writing, and they are only partially comic. This book proceeds from the broad and frequently rehearsed observation that Jonathan Lethem’s novels and short stories subvert established fictional genres in some way, and that the
In interview, Jonathan Lethem has repeatedly evoked the idea of ‘dreaming his way back’ to the borough of his birth. His tendency to divide his time between Brooklyn and other places such as Toronto or Maine he explains like this: ‘Dreaming my way back to Brooklyn seems to be a necessary part of loving it for me – continuing to also love it from afar’ (Birnbaum, 2004
California, Jonathan Lethem is always staying home’ (Picone, 2004: 29). Despite Lionel Essrog’s exhortations at the end of Motherless Brooklyn to ‘Put an egg in your shoe, and beat it. Make like a tree, and leave. Tell your story walking’ (Lethem, 1999 : 311), the first part of The Fortress of Solitude returns us, in dreamily descriptive, nostalgic prose, to the streets of his Brooklyn
conceptual shape is precisely determined by that need’ (Rosmarin, 1985 : 25) is an extreme one, but it accounts for the central importance of the reader and his or her interested nature in ways that connect it to the work of Altman and help to highlight the challenges inherent in trying to fashion categories for a writer like Jonathan Lethem. Any conclusions one might reach concerning Lethem
specific historical, cultural, economic and technological context in which Jonathan Lethem is writing. Jacques Lacan’s ‘Seminar’ does not take into account such a context in its discussion of Poe’s tale. Neither should one expect it to, of course. What it does is reaffirm ‘the primacy of the signifier over the subject’ (Muller and Richardson, 1988 : 67) by exploring the way in
This chapter argues that Lethem’s debut novel, Gun, With Occasional Music brings together science fiction and detective fiction (or Philip K. Dick and Raymond Chandler) quite deliberately and ostentatiously in order to explore key ideas in his work – the role of technology, amnesia, and the loss of community. It ends with a discussion of the extent to which Lethem’s melding of genres might be called “postmodern” and suggests that the term “critical dystopia” is an appropriate one for this and other Lethem novels.
Lethem’s third novel is a campus comedy, but is yet again inflected with science fiction. The chapter argues that the campus comedy is an ideal genre for exploring Lethem’s concerns because it has long been concerned with closed worlds, disciplinarity and isolation. At the heart of As She Climbed Across the Table is “Lack,” a hole in the fabric of the universe formed after a failed physics experiment. The hole is a surreal concrete metaphor for a recurring theme in Lethem’s work – lack or traumatic loss. The various characters in the novel, it is argued, frantically try to compensate for their lack of understanding of “Lack” by attempting to claim it for their disciplines, and by using language to explain and therefore own it. In the end, the chapter states, this novel is chiefly concerned with the inescapability and inefficacy of language as a compensation for loss.
Lethem attributes the relative lack of success of his fourth novel partly to the fact that it is set mostly on another planet. Yet it is also his most autobiographical novel, dealing as it does with the death of the protagonist’s mother in circumstances very similar to the author’s childhood in Brooklyn. This chapter argues that Girl in Landscape demonstrates two ways of approaching trauma: directly and in almost documentary detail, and by “hiding in plain sight”; that is, taking loss and transporting it to outlandish metaphorical levels. Brooklyn here gets transplanted to another planet and becomes a symbolic landscape of mourning for Pella Marsh, the protagonist. In its tale of interplanetary homesteaders and their relationship with the indigenous inhabitants of the planet, Girl in Landscape is an example of a science-fictional regionalism.