Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Jonathan Lethem’s Fortress of Solitude

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*Finally* got the chance to finish up Fortress of Solitude, which I started on the plane ride back from the cruise at the start of January and continuously got distracted from.

I went in with a little bit of trepidation, because Casey, the same person who turned me on to the *fantastic* Motherless Brooklyn (blogged here) told me this one was unreadable. But I really dug it. There’s a certain universality — at least for males; call it panandrony, maybe — about Dylan’s experiences, even if Boerum Hill in Brooklyn is nothing, nothing, nothing at all like Randolph, NJ.

I guess there are problems. I’m not sure how I feel about the last section, which is good and enjoyable to read, but at the same time seems to suffer from the same kinds of structural problems that plagued the ending of Kavalier and Clay. Maybe what I read as structural problem is just a hip new style I don’t get. If I saw it in a workshop, I’d bitch and bitch, but at the end of this novel I’m willing to roll with it.

Speaking of Kavalier and Clay, does this book have comic book shoutouts? Oh yes. It’s got a little bit of a shoutout to everything.

The best passage, for me anyway, was when the characters develop the theory that any group of four people imprints on the Beatles.

Now Dylan’s friend Linus Millberg appears out of the crowd with a cup of beer and shouts, “Dorothy is John Lennon, the Scarecrow is Paul McCartney, the Tin Woodman is George Harrison, the Lion’s Ringo.”

Star Trek,” commands Dylan over the lousy twangy country CB’s is playing between sets.

“Easy,” Linus shouts back. “Kirk’s John, Spock’s Paul,”Easy,” Linus shouts back. “Kirk’s John, Spock’s Paul, Bones is George, Scotty is Ringo. Or Chekov, after the first season. Doesn’t matter, it’s like a Scotty-Chekov-combination Ringo. Spare parts are always surplus Georges or Ringos.”

“But isn’t Spock-lacks-a-heart and McCoy-lacks-a-brain like Woodman and Scarecrow? So Dorothy’s Kirk?”

“You don’t get it. That’s just a superficial coincidence. The Beatle thing is an archetype, it’s like the basic human formation. Everything naturally forms into a Beatles, people can’t help it.”

“Say the types again.”

“Responsible-parent genius-parent genius-child clown-child.”

“Okay, do Star Wars.”

“Luke Paul, Han Solo John, Chewbacca George, the robots Ringo.”

We’ve always played this game among our group of friends — most classically with Muppet Babies, but also with LoTR, Star Wars, and basically everything else — but attempting to universalize it in this way is about three levels of critical sophistication higher. Great idea.

Good book. It’s on to Men and Cartoons for me, now, after Project X (Egan-blogged here).

Written by gerrycanavan

February 12, 2005 at 2:16 am

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