Daily Bookmark: Looking back: “The Fortress of Solitude” is a coming-of-age allegory for an ageless borough

If you’d like to read a somewhat autobiographical work of fiction that also dives into the social and political ills of 1970s Brooklyn, you can’t do much better than Jonathan Lethem’s 2003 bestseller, “The Fortress of Solitude.” From racial tension and gentrification, to drug abuse and ubiquitous graffiti, the elements that shaped Brooklyn throughout that decade are the forces that shape Lethem’s characters. 

Dylan Ebdus and Mingus Rude are two friends, one white and one black, growing up in in the brownstones of Gowanus, as an enterprising woman named Isabel Vendle, possibly meant to embody the force of gentrification, brings her vision for a classy new neighborhood called Boerum Hill to life. The boys find a magic ring that bestows special powers upon them, but its real power is holding them together, even as their drug use moves from marijuana to cocaine, and the bodegas and mom-and-pop shops give way to pricey boutiques and hip restaurants. 

Jonathan Lethem is a novelist, essayist and short story writer, and a recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship. His 1999 novel, “Motherless Brooklyn” won a National Book Critics Circle Award. He lives in Brooklyn. 

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