If you were to cast Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City as a movie, for the part of former child television star Chase Insteadman, you’d be smart to hire Joseph Gordon-Levitt—the dimples alone, but also, 3rd Rock from the Sun. In the role of Insteadman’s best friend, the loveable kook Perkus Tooth, a character actor is called for: a Steve Buscemi or a Julian Richings, not Bill Murray—too obvious—and not Philip Seymour Hoffman—too Synecdoche, New York; Chronic City is more like Simulacra, New York. Carey Mulligan could play the part of Oona Laszlo, the waify ghostwriter who gets Chase’s rocks off, and as his absent astronaut girlfriend—Scarlett Johansson. We’d only ever hear her (bosom conjured by that signature rasp) reading little ha’s ha’s down from the chronically starless sky of our city setting, Manhattan…
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I really wanted to like Chronic City. I got probably two-thirds of the way through, and felt too bogged-down to trudge the rest of the way. I don’t know why; it had all the parts that usually make up a book I’d get really in to: New York City, winter, more than a little bit of sci-fi, and all sorts of bizarre surrealness. I don’t think I really connected with any of the main characters. I was sort of intrigued by Chase (though not enough to get really invested in his whining troubles), I was definitely puzzled by Perkus, but Oona just left me cold.
I guess I like a more direct writing style. Lethem meanders, throws in all sorts of very richly-painted details, but takes a very roundabout way to get to where he’s going plot-wise. Maybe I too should have been outrageously high while trying to muddle through it.
I’d give it another shot, but I gave my copy away to an old friend before I took off for Texas.