December 18, 2013

The title of the thing is “Dissident Gardens”.

This is not just the setting, but the place in Queens is a character in itself.

I find that when you can say that about a novel, you have a heavy burden to populate that setting with interesting characters.  I think Lethem failed on that account.  

The novel covers three generations of leftists who live in the housing complex, focused on one family.  It opens with about eighty pages of a mother and a daughter arguing.  I had trouble figuring out who was who.  Then it switched places and time and looked at this other guy, then this other guy, and then finally this other guy.  

There’s a part where a character hallucinates that she is part of Archie Bunker’s crew hanging out at the bar.

In the span of three pages, Lethem kills off three characters with only a later elaboration on what happened. 

You start to care about the characters, and then he switches from their narrative.  It is only much later in the book when it starts to come together, but buy then I was reading to finish the thing and not to enjoy it.  I read this book over the course of three or four weeks, and I wouldn’t have finished it if not for the fact that it was a library book that was coming due.

And it is a shame, because in earlier – less ambitious – works I loved the city and the characters and the story that Lethem created. 

He doesn’t do that here, and that’s a shame.