Smoke and Mirrors
Cannabis inspires Lethem’s characters to envision an alternate New York
by Jonathan Lethem
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For most readers (perhaps users would be a better word) of Chronic City, there will come a moment when they’re forced to admit that what they have in their hands is a stoner book, with all that implies, good and bad. On the most basic level, the title gives it away. Lethem’s New York is a sick city, suffering from physical disintegration and advanced dope psychosis. Everything seems connected to everything else, each wacky allusion, each comically dense situation, weaving baroque tangles of interrelation, until reader, writer, and characters all realize they’re trapped in a forest of signs and will freak out unless they raid the fridge.
It’s not simply that most of the characters are constantly wasted, or even that a key narrative device involves a stranded space station called Northern Lights. The truly stoned
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