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A Narrator to Remember,
This review is from: Motherless Brooklyn (Paperback)
Courtesy 1980s LA Law, that glossy, technicolor descendent of Miami Vice and Dynasty, full of soap opera and courtroom intrigue, a response, perhaps, to the gritty reality of another show, another 80s icon, Hill Street Blues.
I don't remember the character, although I think he may have been a lawyer. I just remember him screaming, loudly, randomly, and bewilderingly.
I was just a teenager, an adolescent who hadn't yet seen enough of life to understand the infinite diversities within it. I was self-centered and assured as an insecure teenager could possibly be. So I saw that lawyer character on LA Law, that character with Tourette's syndrome, and decided he was one of the most annoying TV characters I'd ever come across.
I despised him. It may have been because I'm a naturally tense, jumpy individual. The percussive expletives, the random, disturbing tics those afflicted with the syndrome often exhibit, just a little too grating on my naturally raw nerves. Freaks. That's what I thought. Maybe still do.
Jonathan Lethem's narrator does, too. Even though he also happens to be one of them.
So here I am, a fan of Lethem, having read and loved with all my heart his "The Fortress of Solitude", that when I saw this earlier novel, "Motherless Brooklyn", well I had to pick it up.
Only to find the first person narrator madly afflicted with Tourette's. But this was Lethem, and "Fortress" was my favorite book of 2010.
Through and through a noirish detective novel (I've read far darker), with a narrator who you certainly *can't* just say only *happens* to be afflicted with Tourette's (since it's the central conflict of many conflicts within the novel, wheels within wheels, you might say), I fully expected to be a profoundly put off reader. I never expected to finish the book, let alone like it.
But darn it, not only did I come to care for the narrator profoundly, but I managed to make peace with his distractions: expletives (almost never word-wise obscene) and gestures and shoulder tapping and collar straightening and finger tapping and neck craning and obsessive counting (and I could go on and on). Yep, I got used to them. Read past them, really, set out as they were in italics. And I think that's how Lethem wanted me to react.
By the end of the novel, Lionel was another guy with Tourette's, a reluctant hero type, trying to solve mysteries within mysteries.
All in all, Lethem crafts a crackling good story filled with interesting, engaging characters. I never grew bored. The story has its share of twists. And it's so obvious, after a couple books now, just how justifiably in love Lethem is with NYC. It shows through his writing. His writing makes its mark.
How he could make a truly sympathetic character, when symptoms of Tourette's interrupt the narrative on just about every single page is, simply, quite a trick. Lethem has so much talent.
"Motherless Brooklyn" is strongly recommended.