I took most of last week off from work; I needed a break after the College World Series. I laid low, kept to myself. Almost in hiding. I didn’t leave the house much and stuck around close to home when I did. Some of that is tied up in where I’ve found my personal life ending up, but it was also time to counter some burnout. It was time to retreat to the Fortress of Solitude, so to speak, literally and metaphorically.
On the former, I finally finished reading Jonathan Lethem’s wonderful novel of the same name, The Fortress of Solitude. Per my usual reading habits, I read the first hundred pages in December of last year and then sat down last Friday night and plowed through the remaining 400 pages in a couple sittings.
It was an awkward book to get through for me. The basic plot of the book is a coming of age story about a lone white kid in a black neighborhood in Brooklyn, with the beginning of hip-hop, graffiti, punk rock, drugs, and Marvel comic books filling in the culture (it takes place mostly in the 1970s). Despite the time difference, I shared many of the character’s experiences growing up. It is weird to go to a school and realize that you are in fact the minority, or to get to college and have people listen to hip-hop almost as a novelty, where it was the soundtrack of my childhood. And it isn’t something you want to share. Ever. I’ve never quite figured out why, much like the main character, Dylan Ebdus, struggles with his past (though his was much more traumatic than mine in any number of ways).
But even with all the gritty realism, Lethem manages to pull in a touch of magic, much like the comics that the characters adore. It’s the sort of thing that little boys dream about, and Lethem manages to make the fantastic seem both possible and plausible.
I’ve read three of Lethem’s books now1, my favorite still being Motherless Brooklyn, but Fortress of Solitude comes in a close second.
1 The other book is actually a collection of short stories, Men & Cartoons, which is filled with some pretty mind-blowing stories.
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