“Lethem is one of our most perceptive cultural critics, conversant in both the high and low realms, his insights buffeted by his descriptive imagination.”
—The Los Angeles Times Book Review
Jonathan Lethem’s genre-defying fiction weaves the conventions of noir mysteries, westerns, science fiction, comics, and graphic novels into coming-of-age tales that are evocative and wholly original. He is the author of more than a dozen books—including the much-lauded novels Motherless Brooklyn and The Fortress of Solitude—and the winner of a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant.
Describing his work, Lethem says, “Everything I write is informed by genre traditions, which I love deeply. At the same time, I don’t think I’ve written without straining against genre boundaries, and I’ve often violated them outright. I think my work reveals traces of an extremely eclectic reading history, and my narrative is also particularly informed by film. But my dearest models are nearly all twentieth-century Americans pursuing high art through popular forms.”
The award-winning Motherless Brooklyn is Lethem’s breakthrough novel, a detective story that is ceaselessly interrupted by outbursts from its highly unconventional narrator, a Tourettes-plagued private investigator named Lionell Essrog. Combining the literary tropes of the noir genre with a punch of the unpredictable, Motherless Brooklyn boasts “dialogue [that] crackles with caustic hilarity… Jonathan Lethem is a verbal performance artist… [Motherless Brooklyn is] unexpectedly moving” (The Boston Globe).
The Fortress of Solitude, which was adapted for the stage by the Public Theater, depicts the intricate codes of childhood street life Lethem navigated growing up in 1970s Brooklyn, when the neighborhood was rife with race and class tensions. Chronic City, a New York Times Best Book of 2009, unfolds in an alternate-universe Manhattan, following a burned-out child star and a pop culture critic as they uncover mysteries and pursue truth. The tragicomic A Gambler’s Anatomy is the “pleasantly bizarre” (Publishers Weekly) tale of an international backgammon hustler juggling an existential crisis and a blinding tumor. Other novels include You Don’t Love Me Yet, a raucous romantic farce that explores the paradoxes of love and art, and Dissident Gardens, an epic yet intimate family saga about three generations of all-American radicals.
Lethem has intense gifts; nothing he writes is a waste of time.
—The New York Times
Lethem’s nonfiction, which includes essays on writing and music, is as compelling and observant as his fiction. With Kevin Dettmar, Lethem edited Shake It Up: Great American Writing on Rock and Pop From Elvis to Jay Z, which The New York Times Book Review called “excellent. . . . A feast of rock writing, freewheelin’, funny, and deep.” In More Alive and Less Lonely, Lethem offers us a decade’s work of his incisive, passionate writing on writing. “Lethem is literature’s ultimate fanboy,” wrote The New York Times Book Review. “His earnestness is satisfying, but it’s his vulnerability, his willingness to expose his own flaws, that endears… Lethem’s words remind of us of our own rabid fandoms.”
Lethem’s next novel, The Feral Detective, is out in fall 2018. With this novel, Lethem returns to the genre-blurring detective vein of Motherless Brooklyn, telling the story of Phoebe, a Brooklyn woman combing California desert towns for her best friend’s missing daughter.
In the spring of 2010, Lethem was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Pratt Institute and became the second Roy E. Disney Chair in Creative Writing at Pomona College, succeeding David Foster Wallace. Lethem’s writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, Rolling Stone, Esquire, The New York Times, The Paris Review, The Believer, Granta, and McSweeney’s.