In Dissident Gardens, a novel jampacked with the human energy of a crowded subway car, Jonathan Lethem attempts a daunting feat: turning three generations' worth of American leftists into a tragicomic tale of devolution. He has couched this as a family story and written it so that someone's hot breath is always in the reader's face…It's a big book set in small spaces—kitchen, classroom, folky nightclub—that keep its battles personal at all times…[a] wild, logorrheic, hilarious and diabolical novel. Those who reflexively compare Mr. Lethem to other Jonathans, like Jonathan Franzen, would be better off invoking Philip Roth to characterize this one
Janet Maslin - New York Times
Lethem is as ambitious as Mailer, as funny as Philip Roth and as stinging as Bob Dylan.... Dissident Gardens shows Lethem in full possession of his powers as a novelist, as he smoothly segues between historical periods and internal worlds.... Erudite, beautifully written, wise, compassionate, heartbreaking and pretty much devoid of nostalgia.
Los Angeles Times
Claiming to have lost my reviewer's copy of Jonathan Lethem's Dissident Gardens, I asked his publicist at Doubleday to send a couple more galleys my way.... I wanted the additional copies so I could press them into the hands of close family and dear friends, telling them as I did so: 'Here, read the year's best novel.'"
Alexander Nazaryan - New Republic
[This] novel's powerful and polarizing cultural, political, and racial energies are animated by a typically Lethem-esque cast of zanies, communalists, sexual adventurers, innocents, druggies, dreamers, and do-gooders—cosmopolitans all—whose lives collide and clash with gut-busting humor, heart, and hubris, which Lethem delivers in his seductively vertiginous prose."
In the past two decades, Jonathan Lethem has written, co-authored or edited 23 books, picking up a MacArthur 'genius' grant along the way. He shows no signs of flagging in his rich ninth novel, Dissident Gardens, an evocative, deeply sympathetic work about three generations of New Yorkers caught up in personal and global politics...It's also no small thing that this famously Brooklynite author has brought to life some of the neglected borough of Queens — and so much life, so artfully, persuasively created. When a book pulls me for so long into a beautifully made world, there's always a strange sensation upon the last page: I feel the air yanked from me in a sigh for endings and a whoosh of wow."
In this epic and complex new novel, Lethem considers what happened to the [American Communist Party], as well as some other questions, about maternal isolation and filial resentment..... [A] heady, swirly mix of fascinating, lonely people. Lethem’s writing, as always, packs a witty punch...and the book is as illuminating of 20th-century American history as it is of the human burden of overcoming alienation.
(Starred review.) [A] stunning new novel.... Spanning several major events—from 1930s McCarthyism through the recent Occupy Wall Street movement—and featuring an imaginative nonlinear time sequence so that the novel's particulars arrive at unexpected moments, this work is a moving, hilarious satire of American ideology and utopian dreams.... Lethem enthusiasts may find this to be his best yet. Very highly recommended. —Lisa Block, Atlanta, Ga.
(Starred review.) [A] a richly saturated, multigenerational novel about a fractured family of dissidents headquartered in Queens.... He shreds the folk scene, eviscerates quiz shows, [and] pays bizarre tribute to Archie Bunker.... A righteous, stupendously involving novel about the personal toll of failed political movements and the perplexing obstacles to doing good.
A dysfunctional family embodies a dysfunctional epoch.... The setup of this novel is so frequently funny that it reads like homage to classic Philip Roth, yet the book, like the end of the 20th century, takes a darker turn, as hippie naivete leads to more dangerous activism, illusions shatter, and old age takes its toll.... In "a city gone berserk," pretty much every character struggles with identity, destiny and family. Not Lethem's tightest novel, but a depth of conviction underlies its narrative sprawl.
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