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The central character is that ultimate has-been, the former child actor. He lives off residuals from an old TV show, and continues to act, in one way or another, as the celebrated fiancé of Janice Trumbull, a dying astronaut lost in space. Chase is locked into his own lonely orbit, a character written into the city's narrative as a recurring name in a slightly skewed but recognizable social scene. That is, until Perkus Tooth, a critic and conspiracy-theorist, enters his life, with his riffs on popular culture and obsession with among many, many other things transparent fetish objects called chauldrons.
Tooth is one of Mark Deakins' many memorable characterizations in this recording he comes across as halfway between Bartleby the Scrivner and The Simpsons' Comic Book Guy. Deakins succeeds in painting each character with a light and unobtrusive touch, bringing life to characters that, on page, could easily appear as ciphers. Throughout Chronic City, reality is riddled through with simulation, and vice versa; Deakins' performance anchors the listener to some semblance of factuality, and makes us care enough to follow the narration through the shifting sands of authenticity. This is a universe where hacks and ghost writers create a "muppeteer's fiction", and it's thoroughly in keeping with Lethem's style that one of the more affecting parts of the book Janice's letters back to Chase turn out to be not quite what they seem. Nevertheless, Deakins delivers them without irony or ersatz sentimentality, and his integrity is of considerable benefit to the story.
Towards the end of Chronic City, Lethem's skill with language is finally matched with his control of the plot, and the two strands gel, bringing a sense of urgency to the quest for the real. Dafydd Phillips
Into Chase's cloistered city enters Perkus Tooth, a wall-eyed free-range pop critic whose soaring conspiratorial riffs are fueled by high-grade marijuana, mammoth cheeseburgers, and a desperate ache for meaning. Perkus's countercultural savvy and voracious paranoia draw Chase into another Manhattan, where questions of what is real, what is fake, and who is complicit take on a life-shattering urgency.
Along with Oona Laszlo, a self-loathing ghostwriter, and Richard Abneg, a hero of the Tompkins Square Park riot now working as a fixer for the billionaire mayor, Chase and Perkus attempt to unearth the answers to several mysteries that seem to offer that rarest of artifacts on an island where everything can be bought: Truth.
Like Manhattan itself, Jonathan Lethem's masterpiece is beautiful and tawdry, tragic and forgiving, devastating and antic, a stand-in for the whole world and a place utterly unique.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Bobby on 01-21-11
Don't listen to the naysayers!
What's with the negative reviews? I loved this book, and I loved the performance. I felt at home in Lathem's imaginary world. Of course, I felt Chronic City, with its quirky adventures and bizzarro NYC, is more in sync with folks like Eileen Myles and Ted Berrigan and Patti Smith Perhaps than Jonathan Franzen's sad despairing FREEDOM riders. Oh well. For me I'm glad I didn't listen to the naysayers. I would have missed quite a ride. Or whatever it was.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
By Andrew Underwood on 01-11-13
A New Favorite
I read Lethem's article "The Ecstasy of Influence" for Harper's, and was very excited by the exploration of thought surrounding contemporary artistic appropriation, updating Howard Bloom. That article lead me here to "Chronic City." I wasn't disappointed. In fact, this has become one of my favorite audiobooks. The grand ideas woven into a fun narrative peppered with myriad obscure cultural references makes this is the kind of book that I find hugely satisfying.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful