Either Jonathan Lethem has forgotten how to write or I have forgotten how to read. This book is so incredibly boring and bad it feels like a practical joke. It took me so long to read this book that when I started people still thought Hillary Clinton would be our next president. Even now I have only “finished” by speed-reading the last 80 pages with the result being a complete lack of comprehension. Not that I understood too much of what was happening when I was diligently forcing myself to read every line.
The problems with this unreadable work of fiction start with its protagonist, a total cipher named Alexander Bruno, whose unlikely life has lead to him earning a living as a professional backgammon hustler, relieving overconfident rich men of their money in private games all over the world. Let me carefully state that, if you find this description fascinating, don’t. Lethem does absolutely nothing to connect the dots of Bruno’s life, to illuminate the path he has taken or the personal characteristics that enabled all this.
Bruno has a tumor essentially behind his nose which is distorting his vision and ruining his backgammon game. Eventually he has to move back to his native California and accept the charity of an old acquaintance. There he encounters all the strangeness Berkeley has to offer, mostly through the free-wheeling employees of his successful acquaintance’s secret empire. If any of this has any impact on Bruno, Lethem never lets on.
With such a complete non-entity at the center, the novel’s other characters can do little to improve matters, no matter how weird a name Lethem gives them.
Frankly, I’m worried that even this scathing review might intrigue a small number of you to seek out this atrocity. Stay away from this book.