Lethem’s lat­est mines leftie fam­ily lore

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ARTS & LIFE -

AIt’s uniquely Baker, mean­ing it’s provoca­tive and dis­turb­ing, but mostly gen­tle and funny, mak­ing us see the mag­nif­i­cent in the mun­dane.

It is also a se­quel to Baker’s ac­claimed 2009 novel The An­thol­o­gist, where we first met Chow­der, a poet de­ter­mined to bring rhyme back from the dog­gerel wilder­ness. Be­sides show­ing Paul as an ar­tic­u­late and lov­able char­ac­ter, the book was a leisurely and quite bril­liant med­i­ta­tion on lit­er­a­ture, with lovely turns of phrase and crys­tal-clear ex­pla­na­tions.

It would seem to be a nat­u­ral next step to go from pro­mot­ing more rhyme to cre­at­ing songs. In Trav­el­ing Sprin­kler, Chow­der tells us he once played the bas­soon, he likes mu­sic of all kinds and he re­spects com­posers both clas­si­cal and con­tem­po­rary, Claude De­bussy as much as Paul McCart­ney.

Chow­der, who has three books of po­etry and an an­thol­ogy be­hind him, likes to write in his car. “I can drive some­where, park, put my note­books and my pa­pers on the dash­board, clamp on my head­phones, and think hard in all di­rec­tions.”

He is some­times dis­tracted by what he sees as fu­tile protests such as those call­ing for a stop to global warm­ing. “What a hope­less cause. The earth has been warm­ing and cool­ing for a bil­lion years... Why not protest ac­tions that we can eas­ily end,” like the send­ing of drones to kill peo­ple in for­eign coun­tries?

His main pre­oc­cu­pa­tion is try­ing to com­pose songs, prefer­ably love songs. He buys a gui­tar and a key­board and, with the help of a young friend, down­loads in­for­ma­tion and sup­port from In­ter­net sites like “Logic,” learn­ing how to give him­self mu­si­cal ac­com­pa­ni­ment elec­tron­i­cally.

For read­ers who find his techno-savvy ex­pla­na­tions rather dif­fi­cult to fol­low, there is a good old-fash­ioned plot: he still loves his ex-girl­friend Roz. They have a con­ge­nial re­la­tion­ship and do keep in touch, but she has a new lover, a doc­tor named Har­ris.

Since Chow­der is a gen­tle soul liv­ing in ru­ral New Hamp­shire, he will not re­sort the fi­nal one, set in Septem­ber 2012, deCom­mu­nist is to be, as Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal to dramatic ac­tion. He will de­clare his de­fine the chrono­log­i­cal lim­its of the novel, rhetoric has char­ac­ter­ized it for the past sire to have Roz re­turn to him and he will with the in­ter­ven­ing chap­ters mov­ing for­six decades, anti-Amer­i­can. wait pa­tiently, con­tent for now to learn MER­I­CAN Com­mu­nists, it turns out, ward and back­ward in time, fo­cus­ing on a The Com­mu­nists of Dis­si­dent Gar­dens how to com­pose and per­form songs for have a thing for the New York Mets. range of char­ac­ters closely con­nected to are devo­tees of Amer­i­can his­tory and woo­ing her. He sets up a stu­dio in his barn Or so Jonathan Lethem would have Rose and Miriam. The re­sult is less a nar­cul­ture, from Abra­ham Lin­coln and the while lyrics pop into head from ev­eryus be­lieve. ra­tive than an un­ortho­dox fam­ily por­trait. Delta Blues to the New York Mets and where. Even an “Over­size Load” sign on a

In Dis­si­dent Gar­dens, Lethem’s ninth It isn’t so sim­ple as that, though, as the Archie Bunker. truck can set him off: novel, he re­turns to fa­mil­iar ground, both mem­bers of Rose’s ex­tended and ad hoc If any­thing, their fail­ure comes from “Yeah, he was driv­ing down the road/ lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively. Like three of fam­ily stand for var­i­ous veins or per­mu­taa quixotic over-in­vest­ment in the idea of With an over­size load.” his last four nov­els (the ex­cep­tion be­ing tions of com­mu­nism in post-Se­cond World Amer­ica. Un­able to give up on their stead­Baker, who lives in Maine, has mas­tered 2007’s You Don’t Love Me Yet), Dis­si­dent War Amer­ica. fast be­lief that right will win out over a way of keep­ing us en­ter­tained with lit­tle Gar­dens is set in Lethem’s na­tive New Al­bert, Rose’s ex-hus­band, is an East might, Lethem’s char­ac­ters are doomed more than his lan­guage and his in­di­vid­ual York City, and in it Lethem turns, as he Ger­man pro­po­nent of Soviet-style so­cialby their in­abil­ity to see past their ideals. way of look­ing at things. did to great ef­fec­tive­ness in 2003’s The ism. Her younger cousin Lenny, whose It is in Rose’s last, and least likely, scion, Trav­el­ing Sprin­kler is a wel­come ad­diFortress of Soli­tude, to his own fam­ily’s given name is Lenin, is a utopian Marx­her grand­son Sergius Go­gan, that Lethem tion to the Baker li­brary, which in­cludes his­tory for his sub­ject mat­ter. ist-Lenin­ist, the­o­ret­i­cally skilled, but of­fers a glim­mer of hope for Amer­i­can such di­verse nov­els as The Mez­za­nine,

The re­sults here are mixed, but wor­thin­com­pe­tent in prac­tice. com­mu­nism. Sergius is a blank slate, Vox and House of Holes, and such en­while. Cicero Lookins, the son of Rose’s lover, or­phaned then raised by Quak­ers, who gross­ing non-fic­tion works as U and I and

At the cen­tre of the novel is Rose is a pro­fes­sor of lit­er­ary the­ory, whose dis­cov­ers his in­her­i­tance from Rose not The Way the World Works. An­grush Zim­mer, an un­re­pen­tant and post-struc­tural­ist Marx­ism seems, like in the song cy­cle he in­tends to com­pose Oh, but why the ti­tle Trav­el­ing Sprin­kler? life­long Com­mu­nist. Like Lethem’s own most as­pects of his char­ac­ter, de­signed to about his mother and grand­mother, but in ma­ter­nal grand­mother and mother, Rose shock and im­press those around him. his dis­cov­ery of his own stri­dent an­tiPos­si­bly as a metaphor for Chow­der’s and her daugh­ter, Miriam, are res­i­dents, Miriam and her hus­band Tommy naiveau­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism in the novel’s clos­ing me­an­der­ing prose — but he ac­tu­ally does at the novel’s out­set, of a Jewish com­munly at­tempt to trans­late their Green­wich pages. own a trav­el­ling sprin­kler he loves and ist en­clave in Sun­ny­side, Queens. Vil­lage folk hom­i­lies into rev­o­lu­tion­ary Though Dis­si­dent Gar­dens lacks the im­con­sid­ers it one of the few great Amer

The open­ing chap­ters, how­ever, re­count ac­tion in the jun­gles of Nicaragua, with me­di­ate in­ten­sity of The Fortress of Soli­ican achieve­ments: “It’s what Amer­ica did their sep­a­rate ejec­tions from this would­pre­dictably dis­as­trous re­sults. tude’s por­trait of 1970s Brook­lyn, it is a be­fore it threw it­self whole­heart­edly into be utopia. Rose has been kicked out of the The story is a fam­ily tragedy, but it’s smart, sprawl­ing and in­sis­tently in­ti­mate the mak­ing of weapons that kill ev­eryCom­mu­nist party by lo­cal ap­pa­ratchiks also a po­lit­i­cal al­le­gory. The col­lapse of por­trait of a fam­ily whose pol­i­tics un­der­one.” as pun­ish­ment for her af­fair with a black Rose’s legacy is par­al­lel to and bound up pin and un­der­mine their ev­ery ac­tion. po­lice of­fi­cer, and 17-year-old Miriam is in the fail­ure of post­war com­mu­nism to evicted by Rose for a failed at­tempt to lose find a foothold in Amer­ica. her vir­gin­ity in her mother’s home. At the same time, Lethem works to de

The open­ing chapter, set in 1955, and bunk the com­mon con­cep­tion that to be a

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.