Lethem’s latest novel a tangled, rocking romp
While manning a complaint line in Jonathan Lethem’s “You Don’t Love Me Yet,” Lucinda Hoekke falls in love with a complainer who has a way with words. Lucinda’s love builds into a mad rush peopled with odd characters, especially those in her budding band. They include a handsome lead singer, who can’t stop worrying about a kangaroo under his care, and a drummer who works at a masturbation boutique. The buildup is gripping and the delivery is taut, but the novel builds to a crescendo early and peaks before the end.Lethem’s latest novel doesn’t live up to the standard he set with “Motherless Brooklyn,” which won him the National Book Critics Circle Award. But it does live up to his unusual way with words.”You Don’t Love Me Yet” is a book only Lethem could have written; reading it is a fun turn through a modern-day Los Angeles defined by the desires and whims of a 29-year-old woman in a rock band. Plus, the book introduces a few phrases that may well become part of everyday language for 20-somethings. Perhaps the best example is “astronaut food”: “You know, stuff in little packets that you keep lying on the shelf,” says the complainer, early in the novel, while on the line with Lucinda. “Everyone has some lying around. The people you imagine you might be with but you know you never really will be. The people who if you’re in a couple but you’re a little bored or restless you meet them for coffee a lot and the other half of your couple isn’t really thrilled about it. Or if you’re single, they’re the people you’re keeping on a mental list just so you don’t feel like there aren’t any possibilities. Friends who are almost more than friends but really, they’re just friends. Astronaut food, bombshelter provisions.”Perhaps there’s too much satire and sex in the novel for it to keep its steam up until the end. Or maybe the craziness runs its natural course and inevitably becomes emptiness. At times it is only Lethem’s unusual voice that provides fodder for the story to continue; it’s those little details that keep the novel interesting. As the complainer toasts, “To the stone in the cherry, the jellyfish in the lagoon, the loser among winners, the figure in the carpet, the crack in the Liberty bell … To the tiny mouse’s skull in the can of Chef Boyardee … the one which results in a settlement of hundred’s of thousands of dollars.”Maybe Lethem wanted this novel to be all of those things, but dipped too far into his own desires. Just like Lucinda, who’s raison d’être is to follow her own whims – whether it be night after night of drunkenness or endless sex, she seems to be running full speed down a curving path with no idea of what will come next. For the excitement factor, it’s worth running alongside her – just don’t be surprised when the path ends not as a cliffhanger, but with the expected. And after so much that is unexpected, such an ending is both a letdown and boring. Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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