"Jonathan Lethem's last two novels -- 2003's Fortress of Solitude and 2007's You Don't Love Me Yet -- steered away from the sci-fi leanings of his early work. The talking kangaroos, post-apocalyptic telepaths, and alien hermaphrodites were replaced by flying children and mysteriously endowed songwriters. Okay, so pretty much everything the one-time local author concocts has some element of magic to it.
Lethem's latest opus, Chronic City, is no different, offering up chocolate-scented fog, an unseen tiger that destroys whole buildings, and ancient "chaldrons" that may or may not serve as portals to other planes of existence. Even though it's set entirely in Manhattan, the book sprawls like a bored teenager, spilling profundities and confusions like so many Cheetos. Lethem delights, as always, in language, coming up with goofy names, brilliant metaphors, and absurd cultural jokes.
Lethem has mentioned that Chronic City was influenced by Saul Bellow, Philip K. Dick, Charles Finney, and Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, which is only one of many things that could use further explanation when he's interviewed by Paul Lancour tonight at as part of the City Arts & Lectures series at Herbst Theatre (8 p.m., $20)" -- Dan Strachota