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The Arrest


The Arrest

Would it be an apocalypse if the tools of modernity --- cell phones, airplanes, guns, the internet --- ground to a not-so-sudden halt?

When the Arrest happens, Journeyman finds himself on a peninsula in Maine, where his sister Maddy has settled down to cooperative organic farming. Everyone in the community has to earn their keep, so Maddy tries to teach him to forage mushrooms, but “Journeyman wasn’t any good at it, and shirked the opportunity.” Instead he becomes somewhat of an official go-between and food deliverer --- to the outcast living at the Lake of Tiredness, and to the warlike Cordon people in the south, who protect the peaceful peninsula towns in exchange for food from the farms. His name is Sandy Duplessis, but he calls himself Journeyman, referring to his former occupation as a competent but not exceptional scriptwriter.

"In short, fragmentary chapters, Jonathan Lethem builds a quirky world where events are finely observed but little is concluded. The prose is undeniably provocative..."

“Journeyman was a middle person, a middleman. Always locatable between things, and therefore special witness in both directions, to extremes remote to each other, an empathic broker between irreconcilable poles --- or so he flattered himself. He might only be a muddle.” He’s somewhat of a sad sack, to be honest, but his unremarkable post-Arrest life is interrupted by the arrival of a giant, nuclear-powered, armored vehicle called the Blue Streak, which just happens to be piloted by his old frenemy Peter Todbaum. A foul-mouthed powerhouse movie producer, Todbaum has driven across the country from Malibu to find Journeyman and Maddy.

The first part of the novel alternates between the present and the Starlet Apartments, where the friends ended up a couple years out of college. “Todbaum had a place picked out for them in Burbank, where they’d shack up and bash out treatments and it would be a great adventure, like Yale without all the pointless Yale stuff, and with a good deal more cocaine.” Their epic sci-fi masterpiece Yet Another World goes through endless revisions, including one inspired by a visit from Maddy, and yet, despite Todbaum’s ultimate success as a producer, it never gets made. At least not in Hollywood, because as the novel progresses, we wonder if this post-Arrest meeting isn’t another endless riff on the plot.

Todbaum parks the supercar in a park and seduces many of the locals with tales of the outside and his stash of espresso. What are his plans? How long will the Cordon wait until they make a move to acquire the supercar for themselves? Is the island Tower that Maddy and her tribe are constructing really simply a lighthouse? Or is it something more? Journeyman seeks answers but is not trusted with them. Maddy tells him that he has a crucial part in the island drama, but she won’t say what it is. There’s a plan, it seems, and Journeyman thinks everyone knows it but him.

In short, fragmentary chapters, Jonathan Lethem builds a quirky world where events are finely observed but little is concluded. The prose is undeniably provocative, but I wished for a more robust point of view in Journeyman and a bit more plot clarity. Todbaum and his supercar are entertaining and over the top, well-suited for their ingenious, steampunk finale. If you like your speculative fiction to ask more questions than it answers, then THE ARREST is for you.

Reviewed by Eileen Zimmerman Nicol on November 20, 2020

The Arrest
by Jonathan Lethem

  • Publication Date: September 28, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco
  • ISBN-10: 0062938800
  • ISBN-13: 9780062938800