Jonathan Lethem’s first detective novel since Motherless Brooklyn
“One of America’s greatest storytellers.” —Washington Post
Phoebe Siegler first meets Charles Heist in a shabby trailer on the eastern edge of Los Angeles. She’s looking for her friend’s missing daughter, Arabella, and hires Heist to help. A laconic loner who keeps his pet opossum in a desk drawer, Heist intrigues the sarcastic and garrulous Phoebe. Reluctantly, he agrees to help. The unlikely pair navigate the enclaves of desert-dwelling vagabonds and find that Arabella is in serious trouble—caught in the middle of a violent standoff that only Heist, mysteriously, can end. Phoebe’s trip to the desert was always going to be strange, but it was never supposed to be dangerous. . . .
Jonathan Lethem’s first detective novel since Motherless Brooklyn, The Feral Detective is a singular achievement by one of our greatest writers.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
The Feral Detective tackles toxic masculinity in the post-Trump era, exploring a world where “Who’d you vote for?” has become a feature of foreplay—and vengeance. Days before the 2017 inauguration, Phoebe Siegler abruptly quits her job in New York to join the book’s titular detective in tracking down a young runaway in the Mojave Desert. There, survivalist outlaws draw them into a Fury Road–style gender showdown. Jonathan Lethem’s absorbing novel returns contemporary political warfare to its primordial roots; his bitter, oversexed narrator is sure to trigger heated conversations among friends.
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.