As Jonathan Lethem grew into what critics like to call one of our most important novelists, he became increasingly difficult to pigeonhole; fluid across genres, Lethem's biggest books ("Motherless Brooklyn," "Fortress of Solitute") can feel like sparkling new works from a new author rather than someone you've enjoyed before. His latest, "Chronic City," with it's flashes of pot-fueled magic-realism and ripped-from-the-tabloid-headline riffs again reads as something completely different from Lethem, but no less enthralling.
"Chronic City" features one hapless Chase Insteadmen, a former child actor adrift in New York as his fiance, an astronaut, hovers above, prevented from returning to earth by an orbital minefield. He soon falls under the mad spell of Perkus Tooth, a writer and inveterate cultural critic-obsessive, who becomes friend and svengali, sharing with him his love of all things Brando and an increasing paranoia.
Lethem stopped by the Salon New York offices to speak with Salon's Kerry Lauerman about his Brooklynite critique of Manhattan, his MacArthur Genius Grant and the dark side of cultural obsession.
For an extended transcript of this interview, go here.