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But Lethem was not Mailer—he understood violence, but abhorred it—and the petty conflicts that Mailer had quelled for a generation soon began to consume the borough. So, in August 2010, three years into his reign, Lethem called the flag-bearers of each literary clan to meet deep below the Brooklyn Public Library, where Mailer had long ago fought the mythical Balrog (Gore Vidal).
·The Twee-ny Boppers: Jonathan Safran Foer (notable members: Emma Straub, Nicole Krauss. The Jester, John Hodgman).
· The Quasi-Marxist Mensheviks: Keith Gessen (notable members: Emily Gould, Siddhartha Deb, Justin Taylor).
· The Deceptively Middle-Brow: Jennifer Egan (notable members: Jhumpa Lahiri, Joshua Ferris, Colson Whitehead).
· The Manhattan Slobs: Gary Shteyngart (notable member: Sam Lipsyte).
· The Middle-Aged Dirtbags: Jonathan Ames (notable members: Rick Moody, Chuck Klosterman, Paul Auster)
Lethem, dressed in his finest leather, rose to address the collected clans. Stressing the need for cooperation and solidarity among the beleaguered group, and maybe, like, thinking about how writing for e-readers could be an exciting challenge and push things in a cool direction, he asked: “CAN YOU DIG IT? CAN YOU DIG IT? CAN YOU DIIIIGGGGG IT?”
The assembled clans could. A great cheer rose up. Perhaps they didn’t need a squat old tyrant to keep them in line by periodically head-butting them and whipping them with belts. Perhaps Lethem was just what they needed. Yes, now that they thought about it, Lethem was a little bit like all of them: highbrow and lowbrow, bawdy and cerebral, crusty and well-kept.
It lasted but an instant. The cheering was broken by a shot, then a dull thud: Lethem’s body hitting the marble floors of the Brooklyn Public Library. His last, choked words reverberated among the stacks, “I will never have a moment to sit down and write 400 pages about the quiet dignity of Troll 2 and have it published by a small press in an attractive chapbook. There are still yet genres unrecovered, sub-genres unrevered, and Brooklyn writers unremembered.”
Though rumors of his continued existence persisted—every few months some lost soul claimed to have spotted him in Southern California—he was never heard from again. The true identity of his killer was never discovered, though it is often suggested that James Wood had some part to play.