STARRED REVIEW
November 2020

The Arrest

By Jonathan Lethem
Review by

In his 12th novel, Jonathan Lethem returns to speculative fiction to tell a provocative tale of an isolated Maine peninsula after an apocalypse.

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In his 12th novel, Jonathan Lethem returns to speculative fiction to tell a provocative tale of an isolated Maine peninsula after an apocalypse.

In this particular apocalypse, known as “the Arrest,” some mysterious process has incrementally disabled the world’s supply of gasoline, pixels and gunpowder. There’s no TV, no internet, no internal combustion engines, no firearms. This is a challenge for all the residents on the peninsula, but it is especially hard for Alexander “Sandy” Duplessis, known as Journeyman, who once had a successful career as a Hollywood script doctor but now works as a butcher’s assistant and a bicycle deliveryman, pedaling in the shadow of his younger sister, Maddy, a local communal farmer.

The peninsula’s isolation is enforced by a surly group of tribute-demanding bullies called the Cordon. Are they keeping outsiders out or insiders in? Is there life, civilization or, better yet, electricity beyond their barricades? Busting past the Cordon comes Peter Todbaum in his nuclear-powered vehicle called the Blue Streak. Peter is Journeyman’s former Yale roommate and movie-making collaborator, and he arrives hoping to rekindle his estranged relationships with Journeyman and Maddy as well as his lifelong movie project, Yet Another World, a dystopian, apocalyptic love story. He comes bearing an endless supply of the rarest of rare—brewed coffee. He first enthralls and then alienates almost everyone with his endless stories and fabrications.

And this is just the beginning. Lethem is a beguiling and very smart writer. Told in short, breezy chapters, The Arrest vibrates with sharp, satiric observations and layers upon layers of strange, often funny mashups of popular 1970s and ’80s end-of-the-world books and movies.

Ultimately, Lethem’s plot resolves itself, but in ways that do not fully satisfy. This is deliberate. As his fans know, Lethem often plays a deeper game. There are some answered and many unanswered questions in The Arrest—so many that Lethem seems to be suggesting that even at the end of days, the familiar shapes of stories are insufficient, and life itself offers fewer resolutions than we hope for.

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The Arrest

The Arrest

By Jonathan Lethem
Ecco
ISBN 9780062938787

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