The Arrest by Jonathan Lethem [8/10]

Jonathan Lethem veers all over the literary genre landscape, always has, and he forever runs the risk of alienating his rapt fans. His previous novel, The Feral Detective left me rather nonplussed, so I hoped “The Arrest,” another switchback turn to the dystopia genre, would restore my faith. Fortunately it does, although the first few chapters are genuinely mystifying. The chapters themselves are short snippets, sometimes only a page long, and the book’s central character, Sandy Duplessis, is a scatty, mild mess, hardly a compelling narrative focus. But Lethem is a superb stylist (albeit in many different styles) and quickly one becomes absorbed in Sandy’s woozy worldview. The storyline is almost daft: after “the Arrest,” a global event that turns off nearly all technology, Sandy is comfortably numb in a rural Maine community that seems to be waiting for apocalypse, when his old movie producer buddy, an outre bullshit personality, arrives in a nuclear-powered digging machine. Throw in Sandy’s sister who once was ambiguously involved with the buddy, and the plot aches with foreboding but also crackles with Sandy’s life journey. Part dystopia, part satire, part examination of love and friendship, The Arrest is an odd fish novel that compels, a memorable peek into a man’s heart and soul. Heartily recommended.

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