Saturday, October 09, 2004

Motherless Brooklyn

"Context is everything. Dress me up and see. I’m a carnival barker, an auctioneer, a downtown performance artist, a speaker in tongues, a senator drunk on filibuster. I’ve got Tourette’s. My mouth won’t quit, though mostly I whisper or subvocalize like I’m reading aloud, my Adam’s apple bobbing, jaw muscle beating like a miniature heart under my cheek, the noise suppressed, the words escaping silently, mere ghosts of themselves, husks empty of breath and tone."

Lionel Essrog is the narrator and protagonist of what is both a satisfying private eye novel, and a "serious" novel about betrayal, lost innocence and the struggle to make sense of an alien world. One of four orphans taken in by a Brooklyn Mob "wise guy", Lionel and his cohorts move stolen goods and provide other services to the Mob. When their boss is murdered, Lionel alone is compelled to find the truth.

Lethem has created a most unlikely hero for a hard-boiled crime novel, except in a post modern sense. You can't think about Motherless Brooklyn without thinking about Lionel's Tourette's Syndrome. Lionel's Tourette's has been used masterfully to create a frenetic gritty atmosphere, advance the pace of the novel, and to give Lionel a depth and reality that most contemporary characters lack.

Never one to plod along the ruts of conventional literary genre, Lethem has turned the detective story on its head in a way that should satisfy both noir private eye fans as well as fans of Lethem's other novels.

While not everyone liked it, many reviewers liked it a great deal.

You can buy it here.

If you like this one, be sure to check out Gun, With Occasional Music, another satisfying genre bending private eye/SF novel, Lethem's first.


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