Jonathan Lethem's sixth novel, The Fortress of Solitude, arrived with much fanfare -- even the dust jacket exclaims that it's the book he "was born to write." It's the most ambitious project yet from the novelist, whose previous book, Motherless Brooklyn, featured a Tourette's-afflicted protagonist and won the National Book Critics Circle Award. "I really do think it's the best thing I've done," he says, unflinchingly. "I was trying to reconstruct the cultural timeline of my childhood and the life of the city at that period."
The Fortress of Solitude is a change in style for Lethem, who began his career with a series of strange dystopian novels -- with characters as varied as a kangaroo hit man and a spatial anomaly -- that won him a dedicated cult following. Fortress is a sweeping autobiographical work, set in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lethem's youth. The main character is regular kid Dylan -- named for Bob -- Ebdus, one of the only white kids on the predominantly black and Hispanic block of Dean Street. Shy Dylan eventually forms a tight friendship with a kid named "Mingus Rude" based on comic books, music and other forms of escapism. As the novel expands, Lethem guides his alter ego through the birth of hip-hop as well as the New York punk and graffiti-art scenes. Oh, and the boys find a ring that gives them superpowers.
"This is the novel I've been daring myself to write for a long time, and collecting the tools to contend with this type of material," he says. The tools he needed included the ability to excavate fragments of history from the public library. Lethem spent four years researching Fortress so that he could re-create even the smallest detail of his old neighborhood as it was in the 1970s and explore (as the characters age) its ultimate gentrification. "I've never researched anything to this degree," he says, laughing, "since I dropped out of college."
Does that mean this is the last Brooklyn novel? "I think I'll write about anything but Brooklyn for a little while," says the author. Lethem reads from The Fortress of Solitude at 7 p.m. at Left Bank Books (399 North Euclid Avenue, 314-367-6731, free). -- Mark Dischinger
Avec Lady Marmalade
One of the most prominent and most disciplined performance-art styles to develop in the twentieth century, though not often seen as such, has to be the runway fashion show. It's a weird form of theater, like a sexier version of a Japanese No or kabuki, where the style is instantly recognizable by the performers' (models, in this case) motions -- stunning robots choreographed to supreme uniformity. All this sameness is an elaborate display for a medium intended to be seen on the human form: clothing. It's all about the clothes, after all. It's overlooked as an art form, maybe, because of its commercial nature, but no one can dispute that fashion can often be more about form than function.
Spellbound Productions is staging a Moulin Rouge-themed fashion show in the Grandel Theater (3610 Grandel Square) to showcase fashions and hairstyles created by area designers and to benefit breast cancer charities. Cocktails are at 4:30 p.m., and the show starts at 6 p.m. Order tickets ($30-$50) at 314-534-1111. -- Mark Dischinger
Come Out & Play
First Run's first shows
New theater companies are a lot like new comic book stores -- they both disseminate an art form that just can't seem to find a big enough audience, and often they're forced to close up shop. So now that a new local company, the First Run Theatre, is debuting a fresh batch of one-acts at St. Vincent's Parish Hall (1410 South Tenth Street), we offer them a hearty "break a leg" and also a sweet deal on back issues of Green Lantern.
First Run promises to perform only plays that have been written by St. Louisans. This week's short dramas include "Combination Curious," Josh Arnold's look at the unsatisfying relationships of four young adults who've been friends since high school; "The Fifty-Dollar Proposition," Vanessa Revard's comedy of revenge in which a woman gets back at her duplicitous ex-boyfriend and others; and "Section 335," Mike Kaiman's (prophetic?) comedy about the last Cardinals game at Busch Stadium, at which a man and his father finally bond over a moment of illegal pleasure. The plays are performed at 8 p.m. Thursday, October 9, through Wednesday, October 15 ($12-$14, 314-680-8102). -- Byron Kerman
Regular readers of the daily comics know that "Funky Winkerbean" was at its best when it was poking fun at the hapless marching band and its fearless director. Harry and his Westview Scapegoats are far more entertaining than the Mary Worth-type experiment the strip has become. Why? Because with marching bands, there's so much that can go wrong. The logistics of moving 70 kids in formation while they're wearing matching polyblend uniforms and playing Sousa are so complex that no mathematical formula can fully explain the phenomenon.
But when everything comes together, a well-drilled marching band is a wonder to behold. The spectacle of uniforms, blaring brass section and drums is more than sound and fury signifying halftime; it's magic. See the best of the Midwest's marching bands compete at the Bands of America Regional Championships at the Edward Jones Dome (Broadway and Washington Avenue, 314-241-1888). Tickets are $13-$17, competition begins at 8 a.m., and the finals start at 7 p.m. -- Paul Friswold