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The Wall of Solitude, Jonathan Lethem’s 2003 novel that was chosen by the Vox Book Club for May, seems to be a memory set in a golden summer of childhood. It’s a glittering awakening to a Brooklyn kid’s vacation that seems almost painfully beautiful: the days are endless, the spaldeens strewn across the pink and perfect sandstone walls, the water from the fire hydrant that is shockingly cold – and sometimes, when you jump in the air. to catch a wallball, it’s like you can fly.
“But the stories you tell yourself – which you pretend to remember as if it happened every afternoon on an endless summer – are really a pocket of the crooked days of legend,” he thinks. Mingus Rude at the end of fortressis the tragically mature second half. “How many times has that fire hydrant been opened?” Did you throw water out the car window, what, twice at best? Summer only burns up a few afternoons, at last.
Like other famous American childhood novels, Little girl, The Wall of Solitude built in a binary: the first half is dedicated to the alluring and violent pleasures and pains of a childhood remembered with painful emotional intensity, and the second to mourning the death of that childhood and the arrival of terms of unsettled ghosts. “My childhood was the only part of my life that wasn’t, uh, burdened by my childhood,” Dylan Ebdus, 35, told a frustrated girlfriend who wanted to know why he didn’t let go of one. sanctuary in his days in Brooklyn.
Dylan grew up in the ugly neighborhood of Gowanus in the 1970s, like that neighborhood was about to be transformed into boho Boerum Hill. Dylan’s parents were part of the first wave of white gentrifiers, a pair of progressive hippies looking for nerdy white Dylan in a predominantly black neighborhood to create a post-racial utopia, boasting of their friend that he was one of three white children at school. in general.
Dylan, however, sees no utopia in Gowanus. As we learn the entire section titled “Underberg,” Dylan is gentle, and he clearly has the race and class privilege needed to take advantage of Brooklyn, given ample time. Together, these facts make him a target for what is known locally as “the yoke”, an almost assault carried out under the guise of friendship that sees Dylan untied of his pocket. money per day.
Dylan’s refuge is in the form of Mingus Rude, the charismatic mixed-race son of a nearby famous soul singer and the natural leader of the block. Mingus took Dylan under his wing, including him at ball games, teaching him to steal and tag. Dylan immediately falls in love with Mingus, and their friendship becomes a romantic intensity that becomes a paradise without the brutal streets of Brooklyn.
In an early, innocent echo of the cultural distribution he would pursue into adulthood, Dylan began writing Mingus ’tag to him all over the street. But Dylan and Mingus ’group could not withstand the pressures of Brooklyn in the 1970s. He despised himself; a black child that Dylan feared as if he would not allow himself to be afraid of Mingus. Dylan was studying at a highly segregated magnet school and drifted into Manhattan and the punk scene, where he was constantly subbed to buy drugs. Mingus remained in Gowanus and began selling drugs.
What stopped Dylan and Mingus, for a moment, was their shared secret: a magic ring that allowed them to fly. They use it to try to fight crime.
It’s now common to include a comic book trope like a magic ring in a literary novel, but when Lethem picked up this trick in 2003, it was still a bold formal innovation. It acts here as a bright hope for redemption: After all, if anything can overcome structural racism in America and allow these two boys to fall in love with each other, it must be something magical.
However, the magic of the ring fails to accomplish the impossible. Dylan and Mingus split up.
In the second part of the novel, Dylan is a 35-year-old angry music critic who lives in Berkeley, loves the street creed he got from his childhood in Brooklyn and his black girlfriend, and fantasizes about cheating. of the said girlfriend with a blond waitress. . Mingus is a drug addict who has been repeatedly in prison since he was 18.
The critical consensus is that the second half of fortress, which Dylan told in the first person after we were hidden in the third person in the first half, is the weakest part of this novel. Titled ‘Prisoners’, it lacks the forward thrust and shimmering beauty of the first half, and instead airs aimlessly in one satirical setting after another, before Dylan finally returns to Brooklyn and Mingus, and fortress found his raison d’etre.
But that very quiet chaos of “Prisonnaires” makes “Underberg” even more vivid in the memory, and you feel like Dylan has lost even more powerfully. Fortress of Solitude a heartbreaking novel, and Dylan without Mingus is a sad man. that’s it fortress only begins to float again when he finally fully enters Mingus’s voice, and we are given the complete tragedy of his destruction.
Share your thoughts on The Wall of Solitude in the comments section below, and be sure to RSVP for our next live chat event with Jonathan Lethem. In the meantime, subscribe to the Vox Book Club newsletter to make sure you don’t miss anything.
Topics of discussion
- The famous critic James Wood gave fortress a mixed review of the New Republic upon its release. Eight years ago, Lethem responded to an essay in the Los Angeles Review of Books, challenging the fact that Wood never mentioned the magic ring in the center of the book. A classic fight in literature!
- The Wall of Solitude adapted in the 2010s into a deep flaw and deep beautiful musical, with music by the late Michael Friedman (Blood Blood Andrew Jackson). It had the misfortune to precede the Public Theater in 2015, the same time as hamilton, so there’s very little oxygen left in the room for anyone, but it at least worked hard enough to get a cast album. You can listen to the whole thing here.
- The Camden College section of fortress based on Lethem’s time at Bennington College, which he attended with Bret Easton Ellis (American psycho) and Donna Tartt (Vox Book Club pick) Secret History). Lethem is one of many figures interviewed in this excellent oral history period, as well as this almost equally good podcast on the same topic.
Lethem also blogs at Medium! A great place to check out some of the cultural critics.
In his LARB essay, Lethem writes that the ring is a “formal stop”, so the book takes its own ‘realism’ – copying is my favorite word – in the crisis that highlights strange events. A similar crisis of imitation can probably be read in Abraham Ebdus ’rejection of figurative art, which he would later embrace with his psychedelic paperbacks. What is this crisis for?
- Why do you think Marvel nerd Dylan uses DC’s image of Superman’s Fortress of Loneliness as a central metaphor in this novel?
- The other explanation for Dylan’s loss of life, other than Mingus, is the loss of his mother, Rachel, who fled Brooklyn early and never looked back. On the last pages of fortress, Dylan finally took it from him. How does this scheme work for you?
- On the last pages of fortressDylan envisions the idea of an “in-between space” where the utopia his Gowanus parents were looking for could actually exist, where DJs roam the school grounds and “Mingus Rude is always crossing -cross large playgrounds. spaldeen, home-born circuits. ”This seems to suggest that these in-between spaces are always ephemeral in real life and can only exist forever in art. Agree? To disagree?