The author's big new novel actually isn't self-indulgent.
Every critic, I’d venture, has written something that he or she would like to take back. For me, it’s my expression of astonishment, in a column written on the third anniversary of September 11, that no important fiction dealing with that day had yet appeared. Blame it on the fever for documentation that arose in the wake of the attacks, perhaps, or on my naïveté about the amount of time required to write a book—not to mention to sell and publish it.
“Can’t you ask the computer?” my seven-year-old son regularly demands when I fail to supply the answer to one of his seemingly random questions. His generation knows implicitly what mine has gradually learned: That the Internet is essentially a garbage dump for information, albeit one that requires increasingly sensitive tools to pick out objects of value. “Crowdsourcing,” a term that Wikipedia (appropriately) tells me was coined only five years ago, has become the preferred way to answer any and all questions. Need a dentist in Missoula or a brunch spot in New Orleans?
The ‘Civilian Surge’ Myth: Stop Pretending That the U.S. Can Actually Nation-Build, by Steven Metz A Geek Grows in Brooklyn: Jonathan Lethem and the Disappearing Line Between High and Low Art, by William Deresiewicz From Supreme Allied Commander to … Ethanol Lobbyist? The Strange Journey of Wesley Clark. by Lydia DePillis Scheiber: Was Wall Street Safer in the Hands of Stodgy WASPs? Cohn: Tearing Apart the Latest Misleading Report on Health Care Hey Conan, Here’s the Real Reason Why You Don’t Want to Live in Newark, by Jonathan Rothwell Why Won’t Baseball Adopt Instant Replay Already?
The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem(Doubleday, 511 pp., $26) I. Jonathan Lethem’s new novel is a bohemian rhapsody about an unwilling bohemian—a delicate little white pioneer named Dylan Ebdus, whose right- thinking parents decide, in the early 1970s, that a ragged street in swinish Brooklyn is the place before which to cast their only jewel.
Borrowed FineryBy Paula Fox (Hentry Holt and Company, 210 pp. $23) Despite having been recently re-issued with introductions by modish writers such as Jonathan Franzen and Jonathan Lethem, the six dense little masterpieces that make up Paula Fox's fictional oeuvre still have not penetrated the mainstream. It is unlikely that they ever will. Fox is a tough writer. Even her most devoted fans are often tentative about recommending her work to their friends. She specializes in humid domestic tension, alienation, anomie. She is a poet of appalling moments.