The Fortress of Solitude is a difficult book for me to review. The story being told by Lethem is so broad, and at the same time so simple that capturing it in a couple of short paragraphs seems like folly to attempt. Yet, this novel is so good that an attempt is warranted. The Fortress of Solitude is one of the few novels that I would honestly compare to Don DeLillo s Underworld , and Lethem pulls this off in theme, setting, and in the simple power that is conveyed by the story.

Most of the novel takes place in 1970 s Brooklyn and the story centers on Dylan Ebdus, a young white boy living in a neighborhood of Brooklyn that is predominately black. Later, when he is in high school it is said that he is one of only three white boys in the entire school. Yes, race plays a factor in this book. Dylan is a smaller kid, weak, but he makes a friend in Mingus Rude, a black kid who is new to the neighborhood. Unlike Dylan, Mingus immediately fits in and finds a place in the neighborhood. Nobody messes with him. Mingus belongs. Dylan and Mingus have one friendship when they are alone and at each other s homes, and another type when they are on the street. This works for Dylan. He takes what he can get and he knows that his friendship is the true friendship.

Lethem gives us the rhythm of the street and the race relations in that Brooklyn neighborhood. It is painful for Dylan, but he is able to get by. What comes next almost seems like a gimmick, but Lethem did not push it down our throat so it felt believable. Mingus and Dylan are big into comic books and think and talk about superheroes and the powers they have. Dylan meets a man who was trying unsuccessfully to fly. At first this seems like an event unconnected to anything else, but it turns out to have a deeper connection to the story. Sometime later Dylan and Mingus are part of their own two person tagging crew (graffiti) and they tag a homless man who they think is already dead. At some point later he turns out to be alive and Dylan acquires a ring from the man. This ring has super powers. Dylan and Mingus attempt to be superheroes, but nothing goes quite according to plan and the ring is put to the side for months and years at a time.

As much as the title alludes to Superman comics and that there is a strong comic book theme running through the novel, not to mention the ring, this is a very down to earth novel that just feels real. Lethem has fashioned the world of the Brooklyn neighborhood and of Dylan s childhood absolutely perfectly. Lethem is a talented author who just keeps getting better and better.