cover image The Feral Detective

The Feral Detective

Jonathan Lethem. Ecco, $26.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-285906-8

Lethem hits a wall in his forgettable latest (following A Gambler’s Anatomy). Phoebe Siegler, a consummate New Yorker, travels to the Mojave Desert in search of Arabella, a friend’s missing daughter and an 18-year-old dropout of Reed College. She hires hirsute Charles Heist, the “feral detective,” who lives with three dogs and an opossum. Quickly falling for his woodsy charms, Phoebe travels with Heist to the far reaches of the desert, where the mostly female Rabbit group is engaged in a long standoff with the male Bear group. To save Arabella, Heist will have to do battle with the charismatic Bear leader, called Solitary Love, as Phoebe learns to question her assumptions here on “the far side of the Neoliberal Dream.” The novel feels like it was written as a kind of therapy in the aftermath of the 2016 election—which Lethem’s characters frequently bring up—as well as the death of Leonard Cohen, who also gets a lot of ink. None of this can salvage the book, which features howling men and howling bad prose (during a sex scene, Phoebe longs for Heist to “uncrimp my foil”), making this tone-deaf Raymond Chandler pastiche an experiment worth avoiding. (Nov.)