Who’s Chaos?

A lot of the most famous road trip stories/American travelogues – Travels with Charley, Blue Highways, Easy Rider– share a pretty common theme: they all feature protagonists on a “search for America,” which seems really to be more of a quest to contextualize their own identities. The stories are a little more subtle and complicated than that, but… I’m going to stick with my generalization for now. Thanks!

Amnesia Moon, by Jonathan Lethem, follows a young man named Chaos and is set in a kind of post-apocalyptic America… kind of. The whole thing seems sort of post-nuclear-disaster style at first (mutations, canned food), but in fact there are several shades of weirdness going on.

Everyone seems to be under some creepy mind/dream control helmed by a fat man named Kellogg, who runs a nearby town. Perhaps even more creepily, no one has any memory of what happened to make the world this way or what lies outside their desolate town.

After a run-in with Kellogg, Chaos takes off across the country on a quest to literally find out who he is, where he is and what America is.

Kind of an interesting take on the whole road trip/personal journey/America as a supporting character genre, right?? Without going into details, reality turns out to be pretty gooey in this book, and in the end the question is, “Can you have an identity without a context?” If you have no history and you can’t trust your present experience, memory or even your relationships with other people, how do you define yourself? Terrifying.

And AWESOME because that’s totally what travel and life is supposed to give you, right? Experiences that you can use to calibrate your own identity?

I like it.

I also like this:

If you like Jonathan Lethem, you might also want to check out a pretty cool interview he gave to Ron Hogan on Beatrice right after Amnesia Moon came out.

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2 responses to “Who’s Chaos?

  1. More post-apocalytpic America traversing = The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It’s extremely depressing and all the travel is on foot. Maybe read it after you finish your trip, not before

  2. ithinkitllbefine

    I actually just bought The Road a couple weeks ago! It does seem pretty depressing- did you know it was on Oprah’s Book Club though? Isn’t that weird?

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