Thursday, September 12, 2013

Dissident Gardens by Jonathan Lethem

Jonathan Lethem's new novel Dissident Gardens went on sale this week. It's my favorite Lethem book since Motherless Brooklyn, his most autobiographical work, and a literary novel that sits in one of my personal sweet spots (from the Depression to the Red Scare, with the rise and fall of the Communist Party in the US--love it). Here are ten reasons why you should read this book.

Ten Reasons Why You Should Read Dissident Gardens

  1. It has a killer opening sentence: "Quit fucking black cops or get booted from the Communist Party." Well that's an attention grabber. I mean, Gianna says similar words to me everyday, but it's a line worthy of note in a novel. Who's delivering the message, and who's receiving it? How is a black cop connected to a Communist woman? This opening line is so great that the venerable New York Times printed the f bomb without astericks. Boom.
  2. The cover. You can judge this book by it. 
  3. One of the main characters, Rose, is the cranky lady in your neighborhood who screams at the kiddies, but instead of screaming because they trample the flowers, she screams at them for not adopting her extreme leftist politics.
  4. Rose's husband was too much of a pushover to hang with her. So she sleeps with the black cop and helps raise his son. Let's face it: Rose cannot and will not just let things lie. Sort of like Gianna.
  5. Miriam, her daughter, rebels by becoming a Beatnik/hippie type. Rose may or may not shove Miriam's head in an oven within the first chapter or so.
  6. Right. Jonathan Lethem is working his way through every neighborhood in New York. He's the quintessential New York writer of this generation.
  7. Also, Lethem based Rose on his granny, who really was a big ol' commie. Let's spend a moment picturing J. Edgar Hoover examining pictures of little Johnny in his grammy's file. (Eh...maybe not. That's creepy.)
  8. Lethem works some magic with this novel, so while on the one hand you get an epic family saga, on the other you get a framework for connecting radical political thought in the United States, from the Communist Party to the Beatniks to the hippies to the Quakers to the university academics.
  9. It's a good story too.
  10. Could this book win a Pulitzer Prize? Yes. Yes it could.

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