Chase Insteadman, former child television star, has a new role in life—permanent guest on the Upper East Side dinner party circuit, where he is consigned to talk about his astronaut fiancée, Janice Trumbull, who is trapped on a circling Space Station. A chance encounter collides Chase with Perkus Tooth, a wily pop culture guru with a vicious conspiratorial streak and the best marijuana in town. Despite their disparate backgrounds and trajectories Chase and Perkus discover they have a lot in common including a cast of friends from all walks of life in Manhattan. Together and separately they attempt to define the indefinable, and enter into a quest for the most elusive of things: truth and authenticity in a city where everything has a price.
“There’s something pleasant about me,” muses the retired actor Chase Insteadman. “I skate on frictionless ball bearings of charm…charisma that threatens no one.” Ah, but friction, charisma, unpleasantness, and threat are key to this tale of scintillating misfits (polemical, sardonic Perkus Tooth), power brokers (Richard Abneg, a billionaire mayor’s operative), nervy, vulnerable heroines (Chase’s lost-in-space astronaut fiancée, Janice Trumbull, and ghostwriter Oona Laszlo, “a rib of Manhattan torn out to make a woman”). All careen through Lethem’s dizzyingly brilliant urban enigma, in which love is elusive and intimations of apocalypse (e.g., a mammoth infrastructure-crunching tiger) are as common as cheeseburgers.