True to its title, Chronic City, Jonathan Lethem’s newest nerd epic, is about weed. It’s about other things, too, like arrested development, apathy, and insanity, but the weed comes first, as Chase Insteadman, a child star who lives off the “residuals” from his days on the sitcom Martyr and Pesty, and Perkus Tooth, an eccentric former rock critic for Rolling Stone and a Marlon Brando obsessive, can’t seem to get along, neither in the other’s company nor on the streets of the Upper East Side, without getting stoned first. This makes Chronic City an anomaly in the annals of druggy literature. It’s not a celebration of the high, à la Fear and Loathing, nor a terrifying glimpse of addiction in the vein of Trainspotting. Rather, Lethem depicts marijuana as banal: a crutch or a heated blanket, something that keeps us from walking faster or getting out of bed and into the world outside our heads.
LETHEM READS AT 7:30 P.M. AT THE FOLGER SHAKESPEARE LIBRARY, 201 EAST CAPITOL ST. SE. $15. (202) 544-4600.