MLA Gold Award Site

Excerpt from Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Chronic City

by Jonathan Lethem

Chronic City
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Oct 2009, 480 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2010, 480 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


Perkus Tooth lived in 1R, a half- level up, the building's rear. He widened his door just enough for me to slip inside, directly to what revealed itself to be his kitchen. Perkus, though barefoot, wore another antique- looking suit, green corduroy this time, the only formal thing my entry revealed. The place was a bohemian grotto, the kitchen a kitchen only in the sense of having a sink and stove built in, and a sticker- laden refrigerator wedged into an alcove beside the bathroom door. Books filled the open cabinet spaces above the sink.

The countertop was occupied with a CD player and hundreds of disks, in and out of jewel cases, many hand labeled with a permanent marker. A hot- water pipe whined. Beyond, the other rooms of the apartment were dim at midday, the windows draped. They likely only looked onto ventilation shafts or a paved alley, anyway. Then there were the broadsides Susan Eldred had described. Unframed, thumbtacked to every wall bare of bookshelves, in the kitchen and in the darkened rooms, were Perkus Tooth's famous posters, their paper yellowing, the lettering veering between a stylish cartoonist's or graffitist's handmade font and the obsessive scrawl of an outsider artist, or a schizophrenic patient's pages reproduced in his doctor's monograph. I recognized them. Remembered them. They'd been ubiquitous downtown a decade before, on constructionsite boards, over subway advertisements, element in the graphic cacophony of the city one gleans helplessly at the edges of vision. Perkus retreated to give me clearance to shut the door. Stranded in the room's center in his suit and bare feet, palms defensively wide as if expecting something unsavory to be tossed his way, Perkus reminded me of an Edvard Munch painting I'd once seen, a selfportrait showing the painter wide- eyed and whiskered, shrunken within his clothes. Which is to say, again, that Perkus Tooth seemed older than his age. (I'd never once see Perkus out of some part of a suit, even if it was only the pants, topped with a filthy white T-shirt. He never wore jeans.)

"I'll get you the videotape," he said, as if I'd challenged him.

"Great."

"Let me find it. You can sit down—" He pulled out a chair at his small, linoleum- topped table like one you'd see in a diner. The chair matched the table—a dinette set, a collector's item. Perkus Tooth was nothing if not a collector. "Here." He took a perfect finished joint from where it waited in the lip of an ashtray, clamped it in his mouth and ignited the tip, then handed it to me unquestioningly. It takes one, I suppose, to know one. I drew on it while he went into the other room. When he returned—with a VHS cassette and his sneakers and a balled- up pair of white socks—he accepted the joint from me and smoked an inch of it himself, intently.

"Do you want to get something to eat? I haven't been out all day." He laced his high- tops.

"Sure," I said.

Out, for Perkus Tooth, I'd now begun to learn, wasn't usually far. He liked to feed at a glossy hamburger palace around the corner on Second Avenue, called Jackson Hole, a den of gleaming chrome and newer, faker versions of the linoleum table in his kitchen, lodged in chubby red- vinyl booths. At four in the afternoon we were pretty well alone there, the jukebox blaring hits to cover our bemused, befogged talk. It had been a while since I'd smoked pot; everything was dawning strange, signals received through an atmosphere eddied with hesitations, the whole universe drifting untethered like Perkus Tooth's vagrant eyeball. The waitress seemed to know Perkus, but he didn't greet her, or touch his menu. He asked for a cheeseburger deluxe and a Coca- Cola. Helpless, I dittoed his order. Perkus seemed to dwell in this place as he had at Criterion's offices, indifferently, obliquely, as if he'd been born there yet still hadn't taken notice of the place.

In the middle of our meal Perkus halted some rant about Werner Herzog or Marlon Brando or Morrison Groom to announce what he'd made of me so far. "So, you've gotten by to this point by being cute, haven't you, Chase?" His spidery fingers, elbow- propped on the linoleum, kept the oozing, gory Jackson Hole burger aloft to mask his expression, and cantilevered far enough from his lap to protect those dapper threads. One eye fixed me while the other crawled, now seeming a scalpel in operation on my own face. "You haven't changed, you're like a dreamy child, that's the secret of your appeal. But they love you. They watch you like you're still on television."

Excerpted from Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem Copyright © 2009 by Jonathan Lethem. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    The Lost Child
    by Caryl Phillips
    The Lost Child is a modern novel constructed within a historical frame, invoking one of the most ...
  • Book Jacket: Homegoing
    Homegoing
    by Yaa Gyasi
    It's all very well to challenge people to be the masters of their own destiny, but when you&#...
  • Book Jacket
    Bad Country
    by CB McKenzie
    If author CB McKenzie's decidedly noir debut novel Bad Country were chocolate, it would be at ...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    If I Forget You
    by Thomas Christopher Greene

    A haunting tale of lost love from the critically acclaimed author of The Headmaster's Wife.

    Read Member Reviews

Members review books pre-publication. Read their opinions in First Impressions

Book Discussions
Book Jacket
Sweet Caress
by William Boyd

William Boyd's Sweet Caress captures an entire lifetime unforgettably within its pages. It captivates.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win The Charmers

The Charmers by Elizabeth Adler

"This tale of romantic suspense makes the perfect beach read."
—Library Journal

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

C To T Q

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.