this is my space to review the books i'm reading. and basicly to show off my extensive knowlege of literature and elitism founded there on.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Fortress of Solitude - Jonathan Lethem

i really enjoyed this book. the writing style is amazing, he uses very creative metaphors and his use of point of view is very skillful. he can bounce from following the main character to a beautify detached and poetic voice following the two fathers in the story or one of the other boys. the story follows a boy named Dylan (yes named after that Dylan) growing up in the 70 in a less then nice section of Brooklyn (one not that far from where i live now, and on that is much more upscale then it was back in the 70s). we also see his relationships with his father and the other kids in his neighborhood most of whom are black or Hispanic, there is also the relationship between him and his father a very emotionally distant artist and his vanished mother. the most important relationship and the one that is the driving force of the book is the relationship with the half-black son of the former soul singer who moves in on his block near the beginning of the novel, Mingus Rude. these two boys have a relationship that transcends the black/white border in a time when that was a real challenge and is Dylan's most important relationship with anyone in his life.
what i like is that the three boys that Dylan interacts with the most are really good symbols for groups of people without becoming stereotypes or caricatures. they also remind me a lot of the people i knew growing up in a mostly minority area. of course it wasn't the 70 so there was a lot more integration and less obvious racism when i was growing up, but many of the same kinds of reactions to race relations were around when i was young. there were a lot of kids who were like Robert the tough kid who is on his way to becoming the bad example of what can happen to kids who are preemptively treated like the criminals they could become. he terrorizes Dylan and corrupts Mingus. there is also the character of Arthur the white kid who starts to fall into black culture to protect himself. kids like these were why my elementary and middle school years were so bad, kids who are tougher then kids should be at that age and feel the need to prove it. guys like Arthur were in some ways worse for me, they felt the need to take out there rage on me and never let me live down the fact that i couldn't blend in like them. but for Dylan there is Mingus who acts as a safety net and protective barrier between the two others. Mingus represents an in between space, an idea that helps tie the novel together.
along with the deft portrayal of youth and race there is an element of fantasy worked into the novel in the form of a super powered ring. an object that as it enters Dylan's life is a sort of emblem of the terrible situation of the Brooklyn in the 1970s. it is originally the possession of a homeless and possibly mentally ill man. the only object the man has left he gives to Dylan who uses it throughout his life to explore and try to effect the world around him especially in relation to race and drugs. it is also the thing that connects him to Mingus, even when time and situation separate them. the ring seams to have powers, early on it allows him to fly (and Mingus as well as Robert) sequences that skim the line between reality and fantasy. incorporating a child like belief in superheros and the ability to overcome your position in life to find or make a better place for yourself.
ultimately this is the central theme of the novel. these places that exist between extremes, the mini glimpses of utopia that pass like the eye of a storm. the idyllic space between poverty and gentrification, the line between R&B and Punk that Dylan dances on. and of course the relationship between white and black boys from Brooklyn.


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