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Bookmarks Issue: 
17-July-Aug-2005
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0

And Other Essays

A-DisappointmentArtistFor his first collection of essays, Lethem delivers a work of literary, cultural, and personal archeology. His pop culture artifacts include Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s comics, Star Wars, The Searchers, his childhood in Brooklyn, Philip K. Dick, John Cassavetes, and the paintings of his bohemian father. But The Disappointment Artist is more than a compendium of pop culture. Lethem’s excavations, no matter how wide they range in subject, are thematically bound by the tragedy of his mother’s death when he was just 14.
Doubleday. 224 pages. $22.95. ISBN: 0385512171

Baltimore Sun 4.5 of 5 Stars
"What emerges is nothing less than a 21st century Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Lethem offers every bit of the fervor, the searing self-examination and the insight of James Joyce’s version a century ago." Joan Mellen

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[The] absolute commitment to art as a means of escape from the inconsolable self is what gives the essays in The Disappointment Artist their dramatic heft. … By conflating rich critical insight with moving emotional subtext, Jonathan Lethem has produced a disarming treatise on the essential connectivity between life and art." Marc Weingarten

Minneapolis Star-Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Lethem’s big question is whether he has missed out on his real life in exchange for a life of pop-culture consumption . … [T]o his credit and our fortune, and regardless of the impressive catalog of musicians, writers, illustrators, directors, and actors he credits as influences, Lethem proves himself here as unique and uniquely talented as any artist who has come before him." Thomas Haley

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"These are the highest form of personal culture essays: They explain what the subject means to the writer and then, through the use of story, they chart how that meaning became a strand in the dirty rubber-band ball he calls his self." Adam Baer

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"I haven’t been a big fan of Lethem’s fiction, yet I was fascinated by these essays that elliptically lay out a chart of his development as a writer." Mark Lindquist

Fort Worth Star-Telegram 1.5 of 5 Stars
"While it’s rare that a writer is willing to place himself under such a powerful microscope, doing so is based on an arrogant conceit: that he believes himself interesting enough to be studied by others. He’s wrong." Jennifer Autrey

Critical Summary

Praise for Lethem, author of Motherless Brooklyn and The Fortress of Solitude, for what the Baltimore Sun deems "a hybrid tour de force." Not only does Lethem display a broad range of cultural and intellectual knowledge; according to the critics he’s mastered the art of memoir as well. The book is as heartfelt and self-effacing as it is esoteric. The one negative review seems more of a personal attack on Lethem than a reasoned slice of criticism (Jennifer Autrey writes in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, "There are readers who will hang in there with Lethem. I was married to one of them once."). Is there any literary style that can trip Lethem up? We’ll have to wait for his poetry collection to find out.