Bookshots: 'Dissident Gardens' by Jonathan Lethem

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Bookshots: Dissident Gardens by Jonathan Lethem

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


Title:

Dissident Gardens

Who wrote it?

If you think your family's fucked up, a few hours spent with Rose and Miriam and Communist Cousin Lennie will let you know...you don't have it anywhere near as bad as the members of the Zimmer family.

Jonathan Lethem, the brilliant, wonderful author of Motherless Brooklyn, one of my favorite books.

Plot in a Box:

A communist Jewish family in all its fucked up glory endures through the 20th Century.

Invent a new title for this book :

Holy Hell, Is THIS What Communism Was Like?

Read this if you liked:

Anything by the Three Jonathans (Lethem, Franzen, Safran Foer).

Meet the book’s lead:

Rose Zimmer, who once hoped to lead the American Communists to a fruitful reign; now she’s a sad caricature of her own former glory.

Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by:  

Dame Judi Dench

Setting: Would you want to live there?

Ah, New York. I miss New York. I love New York. Seriously, if I had an I Love New York t-shirt, I would wear it. That said, Rose lives in Queens…and Queens? Well, I once bought some seriously sketchy wine in Queens. So maybe I don’t want to live there.

What was your favorite sentence?

God himself had gone inside her to die: Rose’s disbelief, her secularism, wasn’t a freedom from superstition but the tragic burden of her intelligence. God existed just to the puny extent he could disappoint her by his nonexistence, and while he was puny, her anger at him was immense, almost Godlike. Finally, if you dared argue, if you needed proof of Godlessness in this vale of outrage, the Holocaust. Each of the six million was a personal injury nursed within the volcano, too.

The Verdict:

Jonatham Lethem is one of the most brilliant writers of our generation - in my humble opinion anyway. His prose is thick, heady, like a fine wine at the end of a big meal. He writes sentences that make you poke your partner (who is obviously reading in bed beside you - we are a reading community, no?) and read them out loud, letting the music of the words drip from your tongue like honey. For that reason, and that reason primarily, you should read Dissident Gardens.

The added benefit to reading Dissident Gardens is this: if you think your family's fucked up, a few hours spent with Rose and Miriam and Communist Cousin Lennie will let you know you're not alone, and likely you don't have it anywhere near as bad as the members of the Zimmer family. Because in the Zimmer family, cousins occasionally seduce cousins, before sending them out to their deaths at the hands of Irish mobsters. Yeah. Trust me. Your family's not that bad.

That said, if you're the type who likes action and adventure, this is probably not the book for you. Dissident Gardens spans only as far as central Pennsylvania, and focuses on characters' inner struggles, often to the extent that major plot points are presented with barely a passing mention. "Wait, what? So-and-so is dead? When did that happen?" The book definitely requires a laser-focus in order to follow its sprawling, meandering timeline.

Still, Lethem is Brilliant-with-a-capital-B. I'm not lying. So pick it up. Give it a shot. Immerse yourself in the New York City countercultures of the 40s, 50s, and beyond. Go on. I dare you.

Image of Dissident Gardens: A Novel
Author: Jonathan Lethem
Price: $2.25
Publisher: Doubleday (2013)
Binding: Hardcover, 384 pages
Leah Rhyne

Review by Leah Rhyne

Leah Rhyne is a Jersey girl who's lived in the South so long she's lost her accent...but never her attitude. After spending most of her childhood watching movies like Star Wars, Aliens, and A Nightmare On Elm Street, and reading books like Stephen King's The Shining or It, Leah now writes horror and science-fiction. She lives with her husband, daughter, and a small menagerie of pets.

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Comments

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading A lot of Brian Evenson September 10, 2013 - 9:07am

I've only read one Lethem, As She Climbed Across the Table, because I heard David Cronenberg was interested in directing an adaptation. I really liked it. But I've always steered clear of the other two Js. Franzen is a dick, and Jonathan Savoir Faire is a hack.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies September 10, 2013 - 9:23am

I have a few of Lethem's books at home (Motherless Brooklyn, Gun, with Occasional Music, and Girl in Landscape) but have never cracked them. This sounds good. He takes some risks, for sure.

Keith's picture
Keith from Phoenix, AZ is reading Growing Up Dead in Texas by Stephen Graham Jones September 10, 2013 - 9:29am

@Josh - With Frazen you've got to look past the artist and concentrate on the art. If you do that you're in for a great reading experience.

@Leah - Great review, and I'm a huge fan of Lethem, but to be honest, I had a rough time with Gardens. A lot of it felt worn, and read like his meatier novels such as Fortress of Solitude.

leah_beth's picture
leah_beth from New Jersey - now in Charleston, SC is reading five different books at once. September 10, 2013 - 9:54am

@ Keith - I do tend to prefer a bit more action. But the subject matter (New York Jews) is my own roots, so that made it feel homey and nostalgic. Though the Communism thing...not quite in my family history. Ha!

@Richard - I LOVE Motherless Brooklyn. It's one of my favorites. Give that one a shot! :D

@Josh - HA!! I maybe shouldn't group the three J's together, but it seems an easy comparison. And I do like Safran Foer....at least his first novel. 

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading A lot of Brian Evenson September 10, 2013 - 11:10am

Also, Hey! I live in Queens.

Brian McGackin's picture
Brian McGackin from NJ/LA is reading Between the World and Me September 10, 2013 - 12:50pm

I'm so behind on the Jonthans—I think I've read one book total of their many—so this might be the pants-kick I need to dive into those finally. This book sounds great.

Ryan Peverly's picture
Ryan Peverly from Ohio is reading The AEgypt Cycle by John Crowley September 10, 2013 - 4:52pm

@everyone Good discussion.

 

@Leah Good review. Big fan of Lethem. Definitely going to check this out now.

Cath Murphy's picture
Cath Murphy from UK is reading Find out on the Unpr!ntable podcast September 11, 2013 - 12:05am

@Leah - my uncle was a Communist (the Belgian kind) so this book sounds like it might delve into my family history too. This will be my first Lethem, but I'm game.

In my head Jonathan SF always becomes Jonathan Saffron Thrower. Not sure why that is.

leah_beth's picture
leah_beth from New Jersey - now in Charleston, SC is reading five different books at once. September 11, 2013 - 5:21am

In my head Jonathan SF always becomes Jonathan Saffron Thrower. Not sure why that is.

@Cath - I just almost spit out my cereal. Thank you. :D

@Josh - Queens...it's just so....Queens!! Seriously, it all goes back to the sketchy "wine product" I once purchased on my way to a party at my brother's apartment....it was disgusting!

@Ryan - thanks! :D

Michael.Eric.Snyder's picture
Michael.Eric.Snyder September 11, 2013 - 6:21am

Looking forward to this.  Loved Fortress of Solitude. 

oneultralamewhiteboy's picture
oneultralamewhiteboy October 8, 2013 - 11:44am

Major plot points being washed over is a pet peeve of mine. Not much of a selling point.