I’m reading The Fortress of Solitude, by Jonathan Lethem

cover-fortressofsolitude.jpgI’ve only just start­ed read­ing this book, but I already have had a few thoughts I want­ed to note, so I thought I’d try a run­ning review/commentary as I go.

July 7, 2004. I’ve read chap­ter one. The lit­tle boy, Dylan, though six years old at the start of the book, makes me think so much of Aidan. And it makes me sad, because Dylan’s life isn’t all that, and I so want my son to look back at his child­hood and think of it fond­ly. I could just imag­ine Aidan writ­ing about when he was six, and how he felt, and it just made me want to put the book down and stop read­ing. Not that Dylan has a bad life, I could sep­a­rate Aidan’s future expe­ri­ence from any­thing obvi­ous like being beat or hun­gry or what­not. But Dylan is just sort of melan­choly, sad, unsure. And I want Aidan to be hap­py and con­fi­dent and loved. Good book so far.

July 16, 2004. Well into the book now, I am start­ing to be able to put in words how it makes me feel. Read­ing this book is like read­ing Umber­to Eco, with bizarre, obscure, and extreme­ly eru­dite ref­er­ences to arcane bits of cul­tur­al lore. Read­ing Foucault’s Pen­du­lum required a set of the Ency­clo­pe­dia Bri­tan­ni­ca in tow. But the ref­er­ences in this book are to my own cul­tur­al swamp, albeit a few years ear­li­er than when I dwelled. The allu­sions are all to com­ic books and sci­ence fic­tion, to Boy Scouts and trac­ing breasts from car­toon char­ac­ters. It is all stuff I rec­og­nize… and yet, I didn’t like Foucault’s Pen­du­lum, nev­er man­aged to fin­ish it. And I’m on my way to not lik­ing this book… I think because it is too much work. When one char­ac­ter tells Dylan to play his chess piece, “or Hulk Will Smash,” the author launch­es into sev­er­al para­graphs about the inner anger of this kid, the allu­sion to the kid’s own inner Hulk, wait­ing, seething, ready to Smash. And that hurts my brain. It is too dense. Maybe that’s the point, maybe we feel for Dylan, not because his life sucks, but because his inner life sucks, too full of allu­sive intro­spec­tion. Clear­ly, one of the themes of the book is that poor Dylan can’t just be a kid (or maybe that kids can’t just be Nor­man Rock­well kids, no mat­ter how much we think they can) but do we blame his cir­cum­stance, or do we blame him. I go back to read­ing.

Feb­ru­ary 15, 2005. Yeah, well I final­ly fin­ished this book. I actu­al­ly fin­ished it a week ago, but I need­ed a lit­tle time to digest it. In the end, I guess, it seems to have not been my cup of tea, though I am not sure why. I was very pleased with what I thought was the end of the book, until I real­ized I still had one chap­ter to go. And that one chap­ter just blew it for me. It took a pleas­ing wrap-up and left it strewn all over the high­way. Which, I con­cede, was prob­a­bly the point. But I could not help but feel betrayed.

This guy, Dylan, spent the entire book try­ing to be some­thing. He always came back to the same cen­tral issues though, always keep­ing him back. Min­go, Robert, Abra­ham… always back to them. But when al lthat final­ly gets resolved, some of it in a very sat­is­fy­ing way… well it turns out his life sucks any­way.

It didn’t seem like the kind of book that was going to end that way. I mean, obvi­ous­ly it wasn’t going to end like a super­hero com­ic (Main Theme of Book: Life is not like the comics), but it didn’t have to bite so thor­ough­ly.

Any­way. It cer­tain­ly kept my inter­est. For what that’s worth.