Motherless Brooklyn - Jonathan Lethem

For some reason Jonathan Lethem's name sounds really familiar, but whenever I see the list of books he's written, none of them sound familiar to me. But no matter; he's won himself a fan with this book.

Lionel Essrog is an orphan, a high school dropout who (with three others) becomes a Minna Man. Frank Minna is a small-time hood who runs a car service/detective agency/shady deal factory, and the four Minna Men do whatever is asked of them, while being left more or less in the dark. So when Frank gets killed, they find themselves tossed into a mystery with very few clues. In a world where it's all about who you know, Frank was the only person Lionel knew, and now he's dead.

The other thing about Lionel is that he has Tourette's Syndrome, a mental disorder which makes him tic—he compulsively shouts out random phrases and sounds, jerks his neck, and has a tendency to count things. His mind catches on sounds and ideas and can't let go. But people around him think that because he's crazy, he's also stupid, and so when he takes it upon himself to figure out Frank's murder, nobody thinks he'll get far.

I haven't read much in the way of detective stories (other than The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which also featured a narrator with a mental disorder), so it's hard for me to draw comparisons. It does seem that Lethem has read his share of them, though, and that he's done some research into Tourette's syndrome as well. I didn't really know much about it before but Lethem really humanizes Lionel and paints a picture of how the world works for him, the things that drive his obsessions.

The writing is excellent. The story isn't entirely original (double-crossings and shady dealings, big thugs and aging mobsters) but it's certainly told in a unique way.

Fed to jonathan's brain | June 23, 2005 | Comments (0)


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