With his sixth novel, You Don't Love Me Yet
, Jonathan Lethem continues to show off his dexterity with the form, following up the coming-of-age epic The Fortress of Solitude
with a dreamlike, comic portrait of the Los Angeles art scene. Lethem craftily sets up his ruse with a letter of complaint from Falmouth Strand (a seemingly minor character) who warns us that the book we are about to read completely misrepresents the truth. Falmouth is a former installation artist who has turned from sculpting objects to "manipulating people's despair, pensiveness, ennui." For his latest project, he has posted signs around Los Angeles: "Complaints? Call 213 291 7778." The novel centers around Lucinda (the perfect, unwitting instrument for Falmouth's manipulation), a bass player in a would-be indie rock quartet with nearly enough good songs for a 35-minute set (if you don't count the two they don't like anymore). Lucinda has vowed to stop sleeping with the band's lead singer Matthew (for real, this time), launching a search for true love as drunken and misguided as the band's search for a decent name. She abandons her upscale barista gig to answer complaint calls for Falmouth's conceptual art piece. Before long, she finds herself drawn to a regular whose curious words are "like a pulse detected in a vast dead carcass" of daily complaints. By way of Lucinda, the "genius" complainer's words spark the band's next song, setting them on a shaky upward trajectory all too familiar in the art world. Various characters want (or don't want) to take credit for the song's apparent success, but who deserves it? The complainer who nonchalantly rattled off the words, Lucinda who wrote them down, the remaining band members who collaboratively put them to music, or Falmouth himself, who passively engineered the whole thing?
Fans of Fortress and Motherless Brooklyn may find this novel's levity too drastic a shift, but even though Lethem is having a great time here with wordplay, a motley cast, and Lucinda's sexual meanderings, You Don't Love Me Yet is anything but a simple entertainment. He plays with our notions of art and authorship, enjoying a bit of advanced cribbery himself as he experiments with Shakespearean antics and inexplicable love match-ups. At every turn, Lethem seems to be asking sticky questions: Can anyone create the consummate intersection of dream, desire, and reality that art (and great sex) embodies? Will it last, and should it? Can any one writer capture that moment with a few meager words? If they did, how long would it take for it to be reduced to meaningless slogan? --Heidi Broadhead
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From Publishers Weekly
Lethem (Fortress of Solitude
; Motherless Brooklyn
; etc.) strays from hometown Brooklyn to recount the near-fame experience of a Los Angeles alternative rock band. Its success depends on bass guitarist Lucinda Hoekke, an unwitting femme fatale whose irrational whims torture the artsy Gen-Xers in her orbit. When the novel opens, she's answering phones for a complaint line designed to also function as a "theatrical piece" and is charmed by the eloquent gripes of one serial caller, a professional phrase writer named Carl. (He's responsible for coining "All thinking is wishful," among others.) They embark on a sex-drenched bender that culminates with the band's debut performance—a breakout success. Lucinda is the band's "secret genius," having provided the ideas for the catchiest songs; only she cribbed them from Carl, whose cooperation must be purchased with a token position in the band. Zany disaster ensues in this entertaining but largely insubstantial romantic farce. Lethem tricks out the plot with his usual social wit (music moguls are "unyouthful men in youthful clothes"), but from a writer whose previous books have carved new notches on the literary wall, this measures up as stunted growth. (Mar. 13)
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