Sunday, April 04, 2010

Motherless Brooklyn (1999)

I envy anyone encountering this novel for the first time. The pleasures and the surprises are so frequent and so unexpected and so apt that I found myself in a constant state of anticipation and satisfaction, a state verging on joy as one virtually impossible promise after another is not only fulfilled but topped. This is more or less a hard-boiled detective tale in which the first-person narrator and self-appointed chief detective, Lionel Essrog—perhaps not exactly hard-boiled himself, but in for a good five minutes anyway—happens to be a person with Tourette's, a person who understands his condition, accepts it equably enough, and spends the duration of the novel unraveling the mystery even as he almost blithely continues a lifelong exploration of the impacts and meaning of his condition. It's remarkable how deep into his head Jonathan Lethem gets, and how unobtrusively he maintains the conceit throughout. Meanwhile, Essrog's beloved boss and mentor Frank Minna is whacked and Essrog's determination to get to the bottom of it takes him, both in memory and in pursuit of the killer, through an orphan's life growing up in Brooklyn, into oddly shaded nooks and crannies of New York gangster life, to the blustery New England seashore, and even into a Zen monastery on Manhattan's Upper East Side. If the hard-boiled shtick wears a bit thin after the first time through, that's not so much the fault of Lethem's abilities but I think rather of his choice to work with a genre form that does not often reward second visits, having typically given up its goods the first time around. This is a pure pleasure.

In case it's not at the library.

No comments:

Post a Comment