Fractals are the aesthetic that first comes to mind finishing Jonathan Lethem’s 1995 Amnesia Moon. The novel’s seemingly scattered pieces consisting of something from the schizoid nature of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (but presented in more abstract terms), the lucid dreams of Ursula Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven (the continually shifting flow of narrative), and the post-apocalyptic, reality-slipping-under-foot of Philip K. Dick’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. From these pieces Lethem creates a blend of his own that defies easy categorization. A psychedelic post-apocalyptic realist wish-wash on the surface, hovering tantalizing just below seems an individual’s misgivings in modern life worth the scrutiny.
Amnesia Moon is ostensibly the story of Chaos, a loner living life in the western part of
a post-apocalyptic US. The cause of the apocalypse unknown (though there are some wild stabs), Chaos lives off dog food and the teachings of a dreaming seer calling himself Kellog. His own dreams becoming more powerful and disturbing, Chaos discovers that Kellog may not hold the sway he once did, and with a local hairy mutant girl, starts driving toward Los Angeles, hoping to find something more concrete to build a life on. Encountering all varieties of the bizarre in what’s left of California, this proves an immense challenge.
Dreams and reality swimming in and out of one another to create a narrative backdrop continually revising itself, Amnesia Moon is not mainstream storytelling. Capable of being interpreted in a few significant ways, there are elements from the cautionary novel to the psychological/personal, cultural critique to environmental discussion—even a road novel is tucked inside. According to wikipedia, the number of facets comes from the fact Lethem integrated a variety of ideas from his unpublished short work into a novel. The resulting effect mosaic (as the cover indicates), holding to ‘reality’ in the novel is a tough business.
In the end, Amnesia Moon is a surreal look at a man trying to find himself in a world both mad and perceived as mad. Symbolism layered on top of multiple “realities” (and perhaps vice versa), the abstract nature of the novel is sure to put off many. For the active reader, there is a lot of depth to Chaos/Everett’s story. From the social ideals and phenomena that inform his life to his reaction to them, Lethem critiques both identity and culture with success. While still generally a pastiche, Amnesia Moon is certainly a more substantial novel than his debut, Gun, with Occasional Music.