Lethem, Jonathan. “The Arrest: A Novel”. Ecco, 2020.
When It’s All Over
What happens when all that we have taken for granted no longer works? This is the basic idea behind Jonathan Lethem’s new novel, “The Arrest”. Before the Arrest, Sandy Duplessis had a good life as a screenwriter in Los Angeles. An old college friend and writing partner, the Peter Todbaum, had become one of the most powerful men in Hollywood. But now, post-Arrest, nothing is what it was. Sandy, who calls himself Journeyman, is in rural Maine where he assists the butcher and delivers the food grown by his sister, Maddy, at her organic farm.
Surprisingly, Todbaum shows up in an extraordinary vehicle: a retrofitted tunnel-digger powered by a nuclear reactor. We learn Todbaum has spent the Arrest crossing the fragmented country and has now come back to the brother and sister with unclear motives. In the world, everything has stopped and even though we do not know why, it is really not important. What is important is that this is not the world we knew. Nonetheless, the past lives in memories even if we do not want it to do so.The timid and introverted Journeyman is always one step behind, and not in control of his own destiny. He has a problem with Peter Todbaum who is bothersome and manipulative with whom h shares a strange relationship. Peter’s presence in the Journeyman’s life threatens to turn his post-apocalyptic paradise into a show.
With Todbaum’s return, we wonder if everything has “re-begun”. He seems to be something of a ticking bomb. We don’t know much more than that something happened to turn off all electrical equipment and break almost all appliances. Sandy Duplessis’s life has changed from being a script doctor to a butcher’s assistant/delivery person living in his sister’s commune-like town in rural Maine. We move back and forth from his present circumstances to his life in Hollywood working for Peter Todbaum. They began as colleagues but then Peter made it huge and Sandy just worked for him. Now Todbaum shows up in town with a nuclear powered impossible super car and things happen.
Lethem is an amazing character developer. He has created the kind of characters that are unforgettable. He has also created a world that surprisingly, people want to live in even though it is not a happy place.
This is a strange but fascinating read. Whatever happened is of no real importance and we really only care about the thoughts of the characters. The plot moves quickly as we read aboutunbalanced relationships as we await to learn about true intentions and what happens next.