The historically Italian neighborhood that lies just across the harbor from lower Manhattan is a novel waiting to be captured in print. Catholics there still worship at the church where Al Capone was married and receive their funerals in mortuaries with frankly Italian surnames. The Brooklyn neighborhood got a taste of fame when Nicolas Cage played Ronny Cammareri, the operatically depressed baker who falls in love with a character played by Cher in the movie ”Moonstruck.” But the Cammareri Brothers Bakery is no more. The bakers and many of their patrons were swept away in a wave of gentrification that leaves the area less and less Italian by the day.
Dylan Ebdus, the bullied white boy in ”The Fortress of Solitude,” is an only child abandoned by a runaway mother. The template of isolation is so firmly nailed down, in fact, that it comes as a shock when we learn in ”The Disappointment Artist” that Jonathan Lethem actually has siblings. They go by in cameo, though, and disappear — poof! — like smoke from a passing train. But the fact that we meet them at all suggests Lethem is making his way back from solitary confinement into the flesh-and-blood world he once worked so hard to avoid. Perhaps he intends to use the vibrant Brooklyn village where he came of age in the next phase of his work. If so, he could hardly have chosen a richer or more promising backdrop.