t was the best of times. It was the worst of times. (Hey–that’s catchy. Someone should use it in a book.) I had high hopes for The Fortress of Solitude, and Jonathan Lethem partially delivered on them. Just not entirely. And the parts where he didn’t deliver frustrated me so much that they almost overwhelmed the parts where he did.
The good: two completely original, memorable characters, Dylan Ebdus and Mingus Rude. A perhaps obvious but no less slightly profound point: Lethem tells us all we need to know about Dylan’s and Mingus’s parents by giving them these names. The wacky names some parents choose tells us much more about the parents than it does the kids.
The bad: a horrid comic superhero subplot. Enough with the frickin’ superheroes already. Michael Chabon already did it, and no one’s going to come along and improve on it. Get over it. (Or am I the only male in America who has never cared about comics books? Sheesh.)
Dylan’s character had to have been at least partially autobiographical. I have a hard time believing that Lethem could have come up with the insights he gives us here about growing up poor and white in a poor and black neighborhood in Brooklyn out of thin air.
I thought the first section of the book, about Dylan and Mingus in childhood, was borderline brilliant. I loved the first third, was bored by the second third, and ready to punch Lethem in the face by the third third.
I also thought that Lethem wrote really well about the act of creating art. (Dylan’s dad is a painter and Mingus’s is a musician.) If he tackles those themes in a future novel, I’ll pick it up with–ahem–great expectations.