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The Fortress of Solitude


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The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem is the story of what would happen if two teenaged boys obsessed with comic books heroes actually had superpowers: they would screw up their lives.

About the Author

Jonathan Lethem was born in New York and attended Bennington College. He is the author of the novels Gun, with Occasional Music, Amnesia Moon, As She Climbed Across the Table, Girl in Landscape and Motherless Brooklyn, as well as a collection of stories, The Wall of the Sky, the Wall of the Eye. Film rights for Amnesia Moon have been bought by David Lynch, whilst Edward Norton has bought the rights for Motherless Brooklyn. Lethem was described by Newsweek as one of its '100 People for the New Century'. Jonathan Lethem currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.


Like Don DeLillo's Underworld, this sprawling, ambitious work by Lethem (Motherless Brooklyn) gives a kind of social history of late 20th-century America while remaining grounded in the childhood world of New York stoops. Instead of the 1950s Bronx, however, Lethem starts his story in a few sullen blocks in Brooklyn, following the friendship of two neighbor boys of different races, Dylan Ebdus and Mingus Rude, from the urban era of "white flight" in the early 1970s to gentrification. The life of the block is superbly drawn over the book's first 200 pages, especially Lethem's evocations of children's street life; the years of shakedowns and "yokings" suffered by Dylan, a boy left heartbreakingly unprepared by his hippyish parents, are so knowingly described that anyone who ever suffered the attention of bullies will have to take reading breaks. Also like Underworld, however, Lethem's novel can seem overfilled with cultural riffing, however brilliantly observed. Dylan and Mingus share the boyhood worlds of comics and graffiti (even splitting a street tag identity), of rap, and even of a ring with magic powers, but ultimately they compete with Lethem's scene-setting cultural and musical criticism. And while 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. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/03.]-Nathan Ward, "Library Journal" Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

"'Jonathan Lethem's novel is the best New York City novel of the past 10 or 15 years... Probably the one American novel this year you absolutely must read.' Rick Moody; 'One of those rare books that felt as though it had to be written.' Nick Hornby; 'A phenomenal book, with the pace of Scorsese or Spike Lee.' Uncut"

If there still remains any doubt, this novel confirms Lethem's status as the poet of Brooklyn and of motherless boys. Projected through the prism of race relations, black music and pop art, Lethem's stunning, disturbing and authoritatively observed narrative covers three decades of turbulent events on Dean Street, Brooklyn. When Abraham and Rachel Ebdus arrive there in the early 1970s, they are among the first whites to venture into a mainly black neighborhood that is just beginning to be called Boerum Hill. Abraham is a painter who abandons his craft to construct tiny, virtually indistinguishable movie frames in which nothing happens. Ex-hippie Rachel, a misguided liberal who will soon abandon her family, insists on sending their son, Dylan, to public school, where he stands out like a white flag. Desperately lonely, regularly attacked and abused by the black kids ("yoked," in the parlance), Dylan is saved by his unlikely friendship with his neighbor Mingus Rude, the son of a once-famous black singer, Barnett Rude Jr., who is now into cocaine and rage at the world. The story of Dylan and Mingus, both motherless boys, is one of loyalty and betrayal, and eventually different paths in life. Dylan will become a music journalist, and Mingus, for all his intelligence, kindness, verbal virtuosity and courage, will wind up behind bars. Meanwhile, the plot manages to encompass pop music from punk rock to rap, avant-garde art, graffiti, drug use, gentrification, the New York prison system-and to sing a vibrant, sometimes heartbreaking ballad of Brooklyn throughout. Lethem seems to have devoured the '70s, '80s and '90s-inhaled them whole-and he reproduces them faithfully on the page, in prose as supple as silk and as bright, explosive and illuminating as fireworks. Scary and funny and seriously surreal, the novel hurtles on a trajectory that feels inevitable. By the time Dylan begins to break out of the fortress of solitude that has been his life, readers have shared his pain and understood his dreams. (Sept. 16) Forecast: Although it has less edge-of-the-seat suspense than the NBCC Award-winning Motherless Brooklyn, this novel will enhance Lethem's literary reputation and win a wider audience for his work. Author tour. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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