Thursday, November 26, 2009

Jonathan Lethem

At, Kerry Lauerman interviewed Jonathan Lethem about his new novel, Chronic City. Part of their dialogue:

You've said "Chronic City" came from your distinctly Brooklyn point of view. What kind of critique, do you think, is it of Manhattan?

Of course I shudder if I think I made a deliberate social critique, because it's not mostly a great path for a storyteller to take. But rather than a social critique or especially one of any particular present moment, I felt what I was doing was exploring some of the ambivalent power of Manhattan. And I think it's always resided there, as long as I've been alive and lived next door to Manhattan -- it is a kind of virtual reality. There's something unreal about Manhattan, it's a creation of will and aspiration and money. And unlike most places on earth it's not rooted in its past, it's rooted in its possibilities and its future, and it's always being remade and revamped.

Now, having said that, what makes Manhattan, what makes NYC, what makes the world more complicated than any description, than the one I've just offered, is that it's also real -- people go on living their lives in buildings, eating food, wearing clothes, trying to pay the rent. And I wanted to find a way to put this doubleness into the book. This fact that a place can be a virtual reality and still be so stuck in our world, our real world, that's what I really cared to say about Manhattan.

When I first moved to Manhattan "Motherless Brooklyn" had just come out. In that book, Brooklyn is grounded in this kind of firmament, whereas Manhattan is much more sketchy, changing, fast-paced ...

The compression you've made, I've offered a similar description a few times, and I always look from the Brooklyn point of view that what I find so nourishing of Brooklyn is that it wants to be the big city, but it falls short -- it's always half-renovated, and half-gentrified. So you see these lumps of the future lying alongside the past, the recalcitrant chunks of the past that won't go. And they're just side by side and everyone has to just live with this kind of awkwardness. And whereas Manhattan often tries to remake itself and succeeds, startlingly this crazy new building will come up or crazy new neighborhood will exist and everyone seems to believe in it and move in right away, and it's like, OK, now TriBeCa is...[read on]
Visit Jonathan Lethem's website.

Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn made Douwe Draaisma's five best list of novels that focus on mental disorders.

--Marshal Zeringue