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.
... 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.
... thoughtful and laugh-out-loud funny ... By viewing the world through the lens shaped by the titular event, Lethem peels back the layers and gives us a glimpse of what we might try to put together if everything fell apart ... The Arrest is a sprawling story of the post-apocalypse, an interesting exploration of the idea that rather than some sort of all-encompassing dystopia, people would simply end up wherever they happened to be when the end arrived ... Lethem’s considerable talent for adapting and subverting speculative tropes is apparent throughout this book, so it’s no surprise that he’s able to come up with an interesting post-apocalyptic landscape, one that completely blows up the expectations two decades of sci-fi have laid out for us. He’s got a knack for flawed characters, too ... All of this comes together in a narrative that embraces the insularity of its setting while also capturing the scale of the catastrophe. The Arrest is a speculative wonder, a joyfully shaggy and unapologetic page-turner of a tale. It is that rare work that manages to be both optimistic and pessimistic at the same time, somehow evoking all sides of what happens after the end. Simultaneously a celebration and condemnation of human nature, it’s a compelling read from one of his generation’s finest writers.