National Book Critics Circle, Fiction, 2000
From America's most inventive novelist, Jonathan Lethem, comes this compelling and compulsive riff on the classic detective novel.
Lionel Essrog is Brooklyn's very own Human Freakshow, an orphan whose Tourettic impulses drive him to bark, count, and rip apart language in startling and original ways. Together with three veterans of the St. Vincent's Home for Boys, he works for small-time mobster Frank Minna's limo service cum detective agency. Life without Frank, the charismatic King of Brooklyn, would be unimaginable. When Frank is fatally stabbed, Lionel's world is suddenly turned upside-down, and this outcast who has trouble even conversing attempts to untangle the threads of the case, while trying to keep the words straight in his head. A compulsively involving and totally captivating homage to the classic detective tale.
©1999 Jonathan Lethem (P)2014 HarperCollinsPublishers
I'm a big fan of SF/F/Horror, and all things in between and out.
This is the story of a private detective who has Tourette’s syndrome who is obsessed with trying to figure out who killed his boss. It’s mystery novel, but the mystery really takes the backseat to Lionel, a hilarious heartbreak of a protagonist, and one of the most intriguing characters I’ve come across: Lionel Essrog.
At least, that’s how I remembered it. Motherless Brooklyn is a novel I’d read probably a decade ago. It won the National Book Critics Award, and ever since I started listening to audiobooks, it was one I’d been looking forward to hearing. And now – it’s FINALLY available to download. So, was it worth the wait?
Without a doubt, yes. As a character, Lionel is still unique. (Just look at that name. Lionel Essrog.) And with that set up, you really have to give Lethem serious credit for that. He could’ve made this a stupid joke, but he works hard to get underneath Lionel’s skin, and show us the man behind the tics. At the same time, he mines the funny – the tics Lionel gets obsessed with EAT ME BAILEY are, well, funny.
Lethem is probably one of my favorite contemporary writers. His prose has a rhythm to it, his characters are quirky perfections, his dialogue is razor sharp and layered. He’s also one of the few authors who can make me burst out laughing while I’m reading him. On the page, it all moves and flows with perfection. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like it always has that same smoothness to it in audio. It’s not choppy, exactly. It’s just not as smooth. I don’t know how much of that is due to Cantor’s narration (which is generally solid), or with the transition of prose to audio.
I can imagine some mystery fans being disappointed that the climax is bigger or louder or more shocking. Well, they can Eat Bailey too. I didn’t remember how the mystery panned out at all, and while the unraveling of the mystery is quiet, we get some incredible scenes, locations, and characters that more than make up for it.
Geoffrey Cantor does disaffected New Yorker with ease, and manages to convey both the humor and heartbreak behind Lionel’s condition. He’ll be describing New York one moment and START SHOUTING the next. It’s a good narration, even if Cantor doesn’t quite match Lionel’s voice in my head.
It’s really nice that at long last Motherless Brooklyn is out digitally. It’s one of Lethem’s best books, and Lethem is one of my favorites, so I consider this a win for Bailey.
(Originally published at the AudioBookaneers.)
There is a minimum of 15 words for a review. So just one excellent won't cover it. Excellent story, excellent performance, just plain excellent. There wasn't a false step in Motherless Brooklyn. Buy it, read it, listen to it, whatever. You will be so glad you did't miss this book.
Thrilling chandleresque detective story, except the hardboiled narrator is a sensitive Brooklyn misfit with Tourette's.
Reading performance is really good.
But I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - J.D. Salinger ^(;,;)^
A kinda egg-sandwich surprise, hardboilded detective novel. I'm still a bit unsure of what exactly was all tossed in (is that lemongrass?). Zen masters? Check. Tourette's? Check. Man-crushes and awkward touches? Check check. Prince (or the Artist Formerly Known AS Prince)? Also, check check checkaramadingdong.
Look fair weather readers, I like Lethem (see four stars?...I couldn't stop at three), just like I like Chabon. Actually, almost exactly like I like Chabon. There is a certain dance, jig, and Brooklyn-hipster style to both their writing, complete with their shared fetishes (comic books, vinyl chairs, bad hair, crappy cars, carnival food, odd screwballs). They seem to be barycentric binaries or orbs orbiting the same point in space; two vultures circling the same diseased zip code of literary space-time. So, yes, I enjoyed it. But also felt like I was robbed a bit, like a bit of the potential for this novel got skimmed off into some dark, back-room, and I was left holding less than a royal flush. I was treated to a comic when I wanted a novel, a girl when I wanted a woman, a joke when I wanted a koan.
The narrator did a fabulous job in this audiobook. The story itself had me right from the beginning but my interest waned as we got further into the book.
The book is a serious exploration of a narrator with a much richer and smarter and more bookish interior life than anyone expects him to have. And the way Lethem plays with language is amazing.
Cantor is the perfect reader. His accent and his pacing and his rhythm are perfect, and he does a great job with Lionel's ticks. His Maine accent is not so great, but there's very little of it.
The best thing about this audiobook is the reader's performance. I appreciated the novels' quirks and Lethem's writing style, but the story becomes redundant and tiresome. I enjoyed the first third of the novel, particularly the coming-of-age reflections, but the last two-thirds of the book dragged. The characters and plot played out like a sub-par version of Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice (which I would suggest over this)
The protagonist of ths detective/mystery ha Tourettes, an aspect of the narration that enhances its appeal. I can't help wondering if Jeffrey himself suffers from this condition, or if he practiced it for many hours before recording the story. Very enjoyable.
It's a detective story where the detective is only a detective because he's investigating, the same way anyone who teaches Zen is a Zen teacher. Character development and plot structure are true to the genre. But the writing style is true to the author.
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