Wednesday, January 11, 2006

3. Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem

[Bike is broken, more time on métro; reading time way up, podcast consumption down.]

Motherless Brooklyn pictureMy SO discovered this book through her cultural raking and took it out from the library. She found it pretty enjoyable and renewed the loan so I could read it. In between that time, both my brother-in-law and my sister recommended it. So it has good pedigree, and now that I've read it I have pass their recommendations off to you.

I loved the first half of this book. What I was so psyched about is that somehow (probably because he's already published several books) Lethem seems to have snuck a genre book past the gauntlet of agents, editors, publishers and critics in the form of a hipster novel. I thought this book was going to be some personal exploration or some garbage like that has covers and titles like this one did. Instead, it's a straight-up detective novel, with a unique protagonist and a rich and deep look at a hidden and shrinking part of criminal Brooklyn.

The catch in this story that I guess made it acceptable enough to the literary world to merit it glowing reviews and awards is that the narrator has Tourrette's syndrome. This element of the book is fun and interesting. You're always cringing for the hero when he's trying to express himself, always wondering how the person will react to him. It goes deeper than that, blending the complex state of his mind with the symmetries and interweavings of the mystery. I have no idea how accurate a portrayal of someone with Tourette's this is, or if such a state of mind can ever be truly understood, but this book gave me the sense of what it must be look to be unable to control oneself.

The Brooklyn that Lethem describes is alluring, compelling. It's the last dying embers of the mafia gangster fantasy that we know of today only through movies. When the book stays in this area, it is fun reading indeed. As the mystery plays itself out, the book is still really good, but we are driven forward more by wanting to figure out what happened than the magic that fills the first half. By the end, Motherless Brooklyn is a competent mystery with great characters. But I strongly recommend that you all read it. I'd love to discuss this with you on the forums so I won't say anything more here.


Crumbolst said...

I had no idea this was a detective novel. It's been sitting on my shelf at home- either abirthday or Christmas present, but I've walking by it for the same reasons you mentioned. You're right, the presentation is deceiving.

Since i already own it, I'll put it on my list. It will be awhile so if anyone is interested, you an borrow my copy.

frenchfold said...

Although I'm a fan of Lethem's magazine pieces - he had an excellent piece in the music issue of the New Yorker last summer, I have also been avoiding the book. Thanks for shedding the scales from our eyes.