After reading and loving two of Lethem's other works (Motherless Brooklyn and Gun, with Occasional Music, to be specific), I was kind of disappointed by this one. My rating is really somewhere between two and three stars, but I decided to round up.
I can't really pinpoint what I didn't like about this book. It wasn't bad
, it just wasn't as good as it could have been, or wasn't what I expected compared to his other novels. It dragged a bit, and meandered all over the place - I would find myself spacing out, bored for pages on end, only to be grabbed back in by a particularly gripping paragraph or two, then bored out of my mind again for the next dozen pages. I also didn't really like the magical realism superhero elements - they didn't feel like a big enough part of the story to really be important, but then when I least expected it someone would put on that goddamn stupid ring and I found it jarring, and stupid to be perfectly honest.
Now for what I did like: I loved the references to the neighborhood and city as a whole, particularly in the beginning of the book. I was actually born in Gowanus, a decade or so after the time period in the book, but still prior to the massive gentrification, so I'm very familiar with the area. The feeling of the neighborhood in the book is very authentic and I appreciated the references to certain landmarks sprinkled throughout the text. I also liked the plot and storyline for the most part - the story of two kids, one black and one white, becoming best friends and subsequently growing apart; the racial tension in semi-ghetto Brooklyn in the late seventies; a coming-of-age story filled with comic books and science fiction and music and drugs. It just didn't all come together as I would have liked.
I did love that the two main characters are named Dylan and Mingus. Bob Dylan and Charles Mingus, two iconic musicians who are so different yet have so much in common when you really think about it - the parallels to Lethem's fictional characters are just so perfect. Just in those two names, Lethem speaks volumes. If only the rest of the book could be that clever.