The author of Motherless Brooklyn returns with a near-future world devoid of technology, where a former Los Angeles screenwriter now working as an organic farmer unexpectedly reconnects with his once-famous partner, who has retrofitted a nuclear-powered digger to launch an unknown agenda.
... a work of literary fiction that associates itself with the science fiction subculture by launching a carefully planned assault on the science fiction pop-culture juggernaut. In doing so, the book provides a quietly lyrical alternative to the uberviolence and cliché blustering of Hollywood plots. But it also, somewhat inadvertently, shows the limitations of a science fiction that sees a mass audience as a threat to the future and the present ... The Arrest is a (very self-aware) post apocalyptic novel, set on a near future earth in which most technology has simply stopped working, for reasons that are never explained ... Lethem’s frankly elitist portrayal of Todbaum as an opiate-belching danger to the public is (perhaps paradoxically) thoroughly entertaining and invigorating; he’s almost movie-sized enough to be a supervillain. In contrast to this semi-pulp pleasure, the way the organic farmers handle the threat Todbaum represents is remarkably thoughtful, in every sense. Lethem’s low-key invention makes good on the implicit promise of the novel, and of subcultural SF, to get rid of what the novel calls 'old stories.' In its small way, it is in fact a new narrative—one Hollywood hasn’t yet colonized ... Dispensing with Hollywood’s bloated universality also makes it difficult for Lethem to address real-world large-scale problems. A story about technology fizzling out set on an organic farm seems like an ecological critique waiting to happen. But the novel barely mentions global warming or water pollution or any other environmental issue ... It’s a pleasant and compelling vision. But there’s also something true in those Hollywood monstrosities that insist we’re all trapped in the same universe, and that any salvation has to be big, and come for everyone at once.
... like the novelisation of a comic, a book about the future that is actually an act of nostalgia for when that future and its technology appeared rosy and progressive ... The thing about the best Lethem novels – and I’m thinking back to early in his career, to Motherless Brooklyn and The Fortress of Solitude – is that they were such fun. I’ve read everything he’s written since and rarely has a novel approached the sheer pleasure of The Arrest. This is a dystopian novel in thrall to its own genre, full of knockabout comic book bravado, with regular knowing nods to literary and cinematic history. It is, in short, a blast.
In his latest novel, The Arrest, Jonathan Lethem explores a world in which technology stops working ... In another book, by another writer, perhaps there would be more in the way of description, causes and mechanisms, the back story that got us to this moment. Exposition begets exposition; down that road lies a more conventional (and most likely longer) dystopian novel. But this is Jonathan Lethem, a master at subverting expectations of form and genre ... He has not written a conventional postapocalyptic cautionary tale. If anything, he seems more interested in unpacking assumptions built into such tales, and why we seem to have an endless appetite for stories that, presumably, should make us feel terrible ... The Arrest may not show Lethem at the height of his powers, but as with so much of his work, it is inventive, entertaining and superbly written.