Mount Chicago A novel

Adam Levin

Book - 2022

"From the award-winning author of Bubblegum and The Instructions, a daring new novel about the absurdity, the humor, and the tragedy of survivorship. A one-in-ten-billion natural disaster devastates Chicago. A Jewish comedian, his most devoted fan, and the city's mayor must struggle to move forward while the world-quite literally-caves beneath their feet. With this polyphonic tale of Chicago-style politics and political correctness, stand-up comedy and Jewish identity, celebrity, drugs, and animal psychology, Levin has constructed a monument to laughter, love, art, and resilience in an age of spectacular loss"--

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Apocalyptic fiction
Science fiction
New York : Doubleday [2022]
Main Author
Adam Levin (author)
First edition
Physical Description
573 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by Booklist Review

Levin's (Bubblegum, 2020) latest massive, meandering, meta Chicago-set novel begins with a narrator named Adam Levin describing his teen acid trips and uttering what becomes the novel's wry refrain, "Perhaps I've gotten off track." Enter Gladman, an endlessly anxious writer and stand-up comedian with a cult following, who satirizes Jewish stereotypes. He declines to accompany his wife and entire family on a brunch-and-museum outing downtown the day a gargantuan sinkhole devours Chicago Loop landmarks and thousands of people. Gladman is left catastrophically alone with his high-strung parrot, Gogol. Their obsessive ruminations roil in contrast with a brainy and audacious Gladman fan, Apter, who sails through a series of vaudevillian metamorphoses involving behavioral psychology, advertising, and politics. Levin's extravagant off-the-trackness also encompasses the mayor's vision for turning the gigantic cone of wreckage into a memorial called Mount Chicago and an immersion in an avian-ruled Kingdom of Chicago involving a duck-centered variation on the tale of Moses. If only this novel's too-muchness didn't threaten to capsize Levin's bravura dramatization of grief and the paradoxes of storytelling, his incandescent passages of philosophical inquiry, arresting insight, pathos, and hilarity.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In Levin's exhausting metafictional latest, a sinkhole opens under Chicago and swallows up big swaths of the city. Comedian and novelist Solly Gladman stays home with hemorrhoids while his family takes a trip to the museum, then disappear in the sinkhole, leaving Gladman to drown in whiskey, Xanax, and regret. Gladman's "foil," Apter Schutz, who made big profits off a hilarious scheme involving desk calendars meant to parody white nationalists, idolizes Gladman. After Apter is recruited to work for the mayor, who wants to create "Mount Chicago," a memorial that will be a "less depressing Auschwitz," the mayor tasks Apter with putting together "Day Zero," a music festival to aid the city's recovery. Apter finally gets the chance of an encounter with Gladman when he is tasked with finding and convincing him to perform. Unfortunately, Levin undercuts the otherwise satisfying sociopolitical comedy with frustrating interjections about his struggles to write this novel and sell his previous one, his wife's uncertainty about whether Apter or Gladman is supposed to be Levin, and many other asides that read like missives to creative writing students or nod to the difficulties of this latest project. As the frustrated reader will find, acknowledging a problem is not equivalent to solving it. (Aug.)

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Review by Library Journal Review

A major disaster strikes Chicago, with the earth falling away beneath everyone's feet, and a Jewish comedian, his most committed fan, and the city's mayor are among the main characters struggling to survive. Meanwhile, NYPL Young Fiction Lions Levin gets to comment on issues like Chicago politics, stand-up comedy, Jewish identity, loss, and resilience.

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

After a huge swath of downtown Chicago is swallowed up by a freakish sinkhole, an acclaimed Jewish novelist who had a brief run as a stand-up comic and an obsessive fan who becomes a mayoral aide confront their losses. The novelist, Solomon Gladman, lost his entire family to the "terrestrial anomaly" (as city officials insist it be called), leaving him to obsess over the intensely neurotic behavior of his parrot, Gogol. Having become a clinical social worker, he is attuned to that task. The fan is Apter Schutz, who by the age of 21 made millions marketing a subversive desk calendar aimed at "real Americans," followed his hero into psychotherapy, and then went to work for a hapless mayor determined to build Mount Chicago, a memorial to the disaster victims that is "as moving as Auschwitz" but "less depressing." At the core of the novel--which, at almost 600 pages, is a walk in the park compared to Levin's 1,000-page opus, The Instructions (2010)--is an epic discussion of the meaning of survival that culminates in the soft, made-for-2022 notion that anyone who is even aware of a death "survives" it. Seemingly by design, the novel tests the reader's patience with long streams of obsessive musings on subjects ranging from pizza preferences to the films of Steven Spielberg (whom David Mamet, one of the real-life figures in the book, calls a "pretentious schlockmeister"). In his opening disclaimer, Levin says that " 'ideas' get in the way of art," but his art is all about how affirming it can be, during these times of Covid-narrowed lives, to dose on ideas. "I digress, therefore I'm alive" might be his theme--a deeply affecting one when all is said and redone. A sometimes wearying but boldly rewarding work of metafiction. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Carrying Pictures of Chairman Mao None of this happened. None of it will. The events I'll describe, most of which will be set in the early twenty-twenties, will all be described in the late twenty-teens. The characters who those events will affect do not exist outside these pages, not even those characters who'll strongly resemble certain people I know, and not even in those cases where the characters resembling people I know will have the same names as the people they'll resemble. It'll all be made up. I'm making it up. No one I've been close with has ever died. I've met a couple Schutzes, but never an Apter. Not a single Gladman. I have never had more than $106,019.00. I have usually had less than $4,000.00. Today--February 2, 2018--I have a little less than $30,000. The seventeenth of November, 2021, will not fall on a Sunday, but a Wednesday. The Rainbo Club doesn't serve Corona. Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds wasn't released till 2009. The Grant Park Lollapalooza Festival never takes place before the end of July. I have never had tenure or nieces or neph- ews. I've known comedic actors, but none of them were stand-ups. My dealings with mayors have not been extensive. Once, at a Chicago Public Library ceremony honoring the author Don DeLillo, my wife shook the four-and-two-thirds-fingered hand of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who, later that evening, in his speech to those gathered, twice pronounced DeLillo like this: Duh-lee-lee-yo. Two decades-plus prior, when I was fourteen years old, summer- jobbing downtown at my father's insurance firm, I spotted the city's second Mayor Richard Daley, i.e. Richard M. , a quarter block away. I was out on my lunch break. He was walking up Wacker with a couple other men, and he appeared so very squat and red-faced that I, who had started eating acid earlier that year, thought that maybe I was finally having a flashback, and so I approached him to get a closer look. I got closer than I'd meant to. I wasn't, it turned out, having a flashback. I've never had a flashback. I no longer think that flashbacks are real. The only people who ever report having flashbacks are people who have had bad trips on acid. Bad trips are panic attacks one has while on acid. If someone is on acid the first time they suffer a panic attack, they don't think, "I am hav- ing a panic attack," but rather, "I am having a bad trip." And then, the next time they suffer a panic attack, they think, "This is kind of like that bad trip I had. I am having a flashback," and that's what they tell people about their panic attack: "I had a flashback." And people believe them. And the ones who like acid but who haven't ever had a bad trip on acid imagine that a flashback will not feel like a panic attack, but like whatever being high on acid had felt like to them-- like some kind of fun. So they imagine a flashback must be some kind of fun. But they never have flashbacks. There's no such thing. I have had bad trips, which is to say that I have had panic attacks while high on acid. But I didn't have my first panic attack while not high on acid until I was nearly thirty years old, by which point I'd long since quit taking acid, and had long since worked (and, not so long after that, quit working) as a psychotherapist. As a psychotherapist, I worked with a number of clients with anxiety disorders, which is to say a number of clients who suffered frequently from panic attacks, so when I had my first one while not high on acid, I wasn't confused: I knew it was just a panic attack. It wasn't pleasant, but it wasn't as terrible as having a bad trip. Not remotely. Bad trips are worse than anything. Mine were, at least. Unrelenting fear and pain. A sense of being on the verge of inflicting permanent damage on yourself. A sense that if you aren't vigilant enough, you might--to pick just a couple examples--you might accidentally choke on your tongue, or swallow your lips or portions of your cheeks before having even realized you'd chewed them off. I had all my bad trips at the age of seventeen. Three out of three trips in a row were bad. I'd taken acid some eighty-ninety times before that. I'd thought the world of acid, had faith in acid. I believed that taking it was central to who I was, and I suspected I was God. Not metaphorically. I suspected that I had made the universe, filled it up with things and beings, and that I, wanting to experience my creations as one of my creations, had inflicted amnesia on myself, then birthed myself as the human being Adam Levin, and that when all was said and done, my amnesia would lift, and I would know what the experience of the uni- verse I'd created was like for those who weren't God, i.e. for those who I'd created. That seemed to me like something that God would really want. When I was not high on acid, I didn't feel like an amnesiac God, but often I would think as though I were--I'd been doing so since the age of four or five. Why? I'm unable to say why exactly, though I think I remember the moment it started. My mom and I were watching Sesame Street. Or The Electric Com- pany. I don't recall which, but we were on our couch, watching one of those shows (or maybe it was The Great Space Coaster ), and one of the puppets on the show kept saying, "I think therefore I am." Repeating the phrase, over and over, changing the intonations and stresses. "I think therefore I am. I think therefore I am. I think therefore I am? I think therefore I am." Etc. It went on for a minute, maybe two. Confused, I asked my mom to explain what the puppet was saying. "It's saying," she said, "that because it knows it thinks, it knows it's real." "It's a puppet, though," I said. "It doesn't think." "But we're supposed to forget it's a puppet while we're watching the show. We're supposed to pretend that the puppet can think, and that since it knows it thinks, it knows it's real." "That's true?" I said. "Well, not for the puppet, unless we pretend. But what the puppet's saying is true for people. They know that they think, so they know that they're real." "I know I'm real because I know I think?" "Yes." "How do I know I think?" I said. "Because you can hear yourself think," she said. "That's it?" I said. "That's the only way?" "Why are you making that face?" she said. "What about you?" "What about me?" "How do I know that you think?" I said. "I can't hear you think." "I'm telling you I do." "But I can't hear you doing it." "You can hear me talk," she said. "What I'm saying is the sound of what I'm thinking." "How do I know that?" "Because I'm telling you." "That doesn't mean . . . That doesn't make sense." "Calm down," she said. "I can hear the puppet talk." "Calm down," she said. "I can hear the puppet talk and the puppet isn't thinking!" "I'm not a puppet, Adam. I'm real." "I can't hear you think!" "Baby, come on, calm down," she said, and hugged me close. I don't know what happened next. I assume I calmed down, but I don't remem- ber. I asked my mother recently if she remembered, and she said she didn't. She didn't remember the conversation at all. She suspected, she said, I'd made the whole thing up. "Why would I make that up?" I asked. "No idea," she said. "I've never understood why you make things up. You or your sisters." But that incident with the puppet reciting the cogito--right then is when it started, I think. The suspicion that I was an amnesiac God. Perhaps it was easier to harbor that suspicion than it was to contend with the possibility that the world was merely a dream I was having. When I was high on acid, I not only suspected I was an amnesiac God, but I felt like an amnesiac God. I sensed connections between things and beings that I believed I couldn't have sensed if I weren't God, and I was happy to sense these connections and to think of myself as God. I believed the connections were real, were true. I was a serious boy, a boy who wanted as much truth and reality to be revealed to him (or by him) as possible, so I took the stuff whenever I could. It was the central occu- pation of my high school years, and I thought ill of people who'd had bad trips. I thought they were weak, and maybe even ugly, deep down in their souls (I believed in the soul). Which is why, after my first bad trip on acid, which lasted something like forty hours--far and away the worst forty hours of my life--I took acid twice more. One time a week later, the other time a month or so after that. I wanted to prove to myself that I wasn't weak or ugly deep down, that that first bad trip--and, later, the second one--had been anomalous, and that the source of the bad- ness could be discovered and thereby repaired by taking more acid. I failed. I've since become pretty sure that the bad trips' badness had everything to do with my digestive system, which by then I'd all but ruined with hundreds of food-free breakfasts starring coffee and cigarettes, followed by hundreds of midmorning, evening, and late-night snacks of Rolaids and Tums. These intestinal abuses had begun to add up, and the thought that had announced the onset of all three bad trips was: "My guts are breaking down." I didn't accept that at the time, however--the ruined digestive system hypothesis. I remembered the pain that triggered me to think "My guts are breaking down" as clear as I remembered the thought itself, but I insisted on believing that the pain and the thought were outcomes of the badness of the trip, not its causes. In case this hasn't come across already: I was very much a mind- over-matter kind of fool, a question-beggar, a chicken-or-the-egger. If someone accused me of putting the cart before the horse (many did; most often when I'd bring up the whole amnesiac God thing), I would deny the accusation by way of pointing out that a horse-pulled cart, if its driver so wished, could be deployed in the transportation of horses. As in: maybe other horses, bound for the glue factory, were riding in the cart behind the driver, lying on their sides, perhaps, half-dead. Or maybe the horses who were pulling the cart were all very sick, and were, themselves, to be turned into glue: maybe there were six of them pulling that cart, a cart that one healthy horse could have pulled, and the driver was planning to spend the cash the factory would pay him for these half-dozen horses to buy a new healthy one to pull him and his cart back home to the farm. Were these irrelevant points to make in response to the initial accusa- tion? Pretty much. Sure. Yes, of course. That is: unless they were full of so much brilliant insight and irony and paradox as to render the accusa- tion itself irrelevant, which, by the time I finished making the "points," they would have seemed to me to be. Furthermore, they would, in most cases, have seemed that way to my accuser as well, for he would not have likely heard me going off about my probable amnesiac Godhood to begin with--much less would he have bothered to attempt to argue about it--unless he'd been as high on acid as I. Were I, at this writing, in a less self-sympathizing mood, I would delete the preceding couple of paragraphs, and just say I was an idiot. A solipsistic, juvenile idiot. But I wasn't an idiot. Or I wasn't just an idiot. I was at least, I would say, an interesting idiot. The premises I worked from were often false, my reasoning nearly as often unsound, and yet my dedication to both was uncommonly rigorous. I was, as I said, a serious boy. A committed boy. Excerpted from Mount Chicago: A Novel by Adam Levin All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.