Jonathan Lethem is an American author and essayist known for his eccentric, genre-bending works. He burst onto the scene with his Nebula-nominated
first novel, Gun, with Occasional Music
, which deconstructed the Hardboiled Detective
in a surreal futuristic setting. He broke out into mainstream recognition with the novel Motherless Brooklyn
, about a gangster with Tourette's Syndrome. He has written a wide variety of other works, ranging from a series of interviews with Bob Dylan
to a study of the Talking Heads
album Fear of Music
to a reboot of the Marvel Comic
, Omega The Unknown
Tropes in his works:
- After the End: Amnesia Moon is set in a strange post-apocalyptic world, after the US has been devastated by a nuclear attack.
- Big Applesauce: Many of his works are set in or around New York City, especially Brooklyn. Or a fantastical version of Brooklyn.
- Blessed with Suck: In Fortress of Solitude, two emotionally detached boys with antisocial tendencies in 1970's Brooklyn find a "magic ring" worn by a homeless man that grants superpowers (initially flight, then later invisibility). The powers are real, but the ring has no lasting effects on their fates as they come of age; they briefly toy with the idea of "fighting crime", but finding that it's more difficult in practice than it sounds, they lose interest in the ring and blithely continue to commit their own preferred crimes (petty theft, graffiti-tagging, drug dealing and abuse). One ends up spending most of his adult life in jail, and the other drops out of college and grows up to be chronically unhappy. Meanwhile, their ring goes years between being worn. The implication is that the way people relate to others, rather than their abilities, is what shapes their destinies.
- Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: In his Pep Talk for NaNoWriMo 2011, he mentions "the epiphanies and pratfalls. The epiphanic pratfalls," in stories.
- Captain Ersatz: This is a repeating theme in Chronic City, which contains numerous Captains Ersatz of various culture references large and small. Interestingly, just as many and varied cultural touchstones are included as themselves, helping create a pervasive feeling of a pop cultural zeitgeist almost but not entirely our own. A few examples:
- One major character was the ghostwriter for eccentric playboy physicist Emil Junrow's witty memoir I Can't Quite Believe You Said That, Dr. Junrow, who as described bears no small resemblance to Richard Feynman, eccentric playboy physicist and writer of the witty memoir "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!"
- The Muppets are replaced in the pop culture of this world by "Gnuppets"
- Russ Grinspoon, described as "the lamer half of [the] well-forgotten seventies smooth-rock duo Grinspoon and Hale" is likely meant as an Alternate Universe Art Garfunkel.
- Creepy Child: Gun, with Occasional Music, features "babyheads", toddlers who have been genetically modified to possess adult-level intelligence. Unfortunately, they also have adult-level cynicism and bad habits.
- Ghost Planet: Girl In Landscape primarily takes place on a Ghost Planet which is being sparsely colonized by humans. There are still a few lingering aliens, but they have only a passive interest in either the humans or the relics of their ruined civilization.
- Government Drug Enforcement: Gun, with Occasional Music, a futuristic Film Noir-style story, tells us about a world where the population takes a variety of state-supplied drugs like Forgetol, Acceptol and Regretol (collectively called "Make") to get them through the day.
- Homage: Amnesia Moon was created as an homage to Philip K Dick, and in particular, his novel Dr. Bloodmoney or How We Got Along After the Bomb. The novel contains several shout-outs to various of Dick's works.
- Hardboiled Detective: Conrad Metcalf, the protagonist of Gun, With Occasional Music is a hard-boiled detective in a world that doesn't really have a use for them anymore.
- Retconjuration: In Amnesia Moon this power is possessed by a number of people, which to some extent includes main character Chaos/Everett Moon. The effect is that as you move across the country, you can be thrown from one reality into another that's completely different.
- Uplifted Animal: Gun, with Occasional Music features several. Most notably, the uplifted kangaroo, Joey Castle.
- Super Zeroes: This trope is the core element of his short story, "Super Goat Man".