Once a well-known child star in a popular TV sitcom, Chase Insteadman is now better recognized as the betrothed of an astronaut who is trapped in space. Their relationship is publicized through the letters she writes to him, chronicling her nights and days aboard the space station caught amidst Chinese mines. In her absence, Chase begins a rocky love affair with Oona Lazlo, a ghost writer of autobiographies.
Chase becomes the center of a group of oddly matched individuals: Oona, the ghost writer; Perkus Tooth, the washed up rock critic; Richard Abneg, the Mayor’s aide; and Georgina Hawkmanaji, Richard’s lover. Under the hazy influence of ICE, a particularly potent form of weed, Perkus Tooth leads the gang on a quest to determine whether Manhattan as they know it is the real deal, or if it is nothing more than a bad dream.
Reading Chronic City was my first, and probably last, encounter with Jonathan Lethem. If not for his unique prose and perspectives, I would have given up on Chronic City within the first 100 pages. I was first drawn to this novel due to my belief I would be introduced to quirky characters in a futuristic and alternative Manhattan. Though the characters are indeed quirky, the city itself is dark and unfriendly, and not exactly futuristic.
I had also anticipated that Chase Insteadman’s relationship with Janice Trumbull would play a larger role throughout the novel. Every few chapters ended with a love letter from Janice. Chase never responds to Janice’s letters, though occasionally she surfaces in his thoughts. Oona Lazlo, cold and distant, is the exact opposite of Janice. However in the end, Janice becomes increasingly similar to Oona as tragic circumstances affect her letter writing.
In an effort to understand what Lethem was trying to convey in Chronic City, I resorted to researching his earlier works and reading author interviews. After reading the Reader Questions (Note: The Reader questions contain spoilers; do not read until after you have finished the novel.) on Doubleday’s website, I found I had even more questions than those with which I began.
Jennifer graduated from the University of Utah with a BA in English. Instead of becoming a teacher, she tried her hand at technical writing and content writing for various companies. Occasionally she dabbles with her own fiction writing, particularly with the Young Adult and Paranormal genres. She currently resides in Utah with her husband and daughter.