Jonathan Lethem’s Girl in Landscape is a difficult novel to define as each page brings questions of uncertainty. My reading experience was something along the lines of comfortable discomfort. Throughout the story, I hesitated to believe the truth behind any event; the author constantly forced us into inquiries such as, “Is this really happening to Pella or is she dreaming?” and “Is this normal behavior among the Archbuilders?” As Pella drifted off into her reveries or her deer state of mind, she herself was unsure whether her experiences were real or imagined. The entire novel was in a setting that no reader can relate to: first futuristic Brooklyn and then a different planet entirely. The author still incorporated relatable elements through his characterization and tragedies (Caitlin’s death, for example), but even then the story plays out in an unfamiliar way. When Pella’s mother collapsed in the bathroom, her son continued to watch television like nothing had happened. Of course, one could argue he was in denial of a tragic event, but because the setting is a pre-determined unknown environment, as readers we must ask ourselves: has the craze with TV and media become this sick in a futuristic world? I believe Lethem wanted to create something fresh – a twist on the typical genre. Thus, I sort of dived into the reading with the notion that nothing should be expected. He introduced us to a world that could potentially make sense if we were raised in it. However, Pella was an outsider and her observations and ideas regarding the new culture became our own.
However much the novel led me to confusion, I found it very refreshing. Many authors pull from their past and their surroundings to create a story for the reader to curl up in and become part of. Jonathan Lethem has created a story for the reader to watch curiously from the sidelines. I think that every novel has to be relatable in some way, however miniscule, and Lethem achieved this by handing his audience the same position as his main character. Pella has stepped blindly into a new land, only knowing what her mother has informed her (which, of course, we’ve been informed as well). I think the defining aspects, then, are not the events that actually take place, because their validity is always in question, but instead Pella’s reactions to these events. This embraces her coming-of-age and learning from unfamiliar experiences and this is something everyone can relate to. If we were reading Girl In Landscape through the eyes of an Archbuilder, I think we’d be completely lost. But we read it as Pella, an outsider, and find it relatable in this way.