Tuesday, January 18, 2011

You Don't Love Me Yet by Jonathan Lethem

I'm not sure if Jonathan Lethem is a pretentious flake or a witty writer who is brilliant at crafting sarcastic humour. In this "rock  & roll" novel, Lethem tells the story of a Los Angeles rock band that is seeking their big break. Light in tone, the book contains a series of quirky characters. There is bassist Lucinda Hoekke, a woman in her late-twenties who accepts a job at a telephone complaint line that is in reality an art project. Then there is lead singer Matthew who works at a local zoo, and who decides to kidnap a Kangaroo to save it from ennui. Drummer Denise, meanwhile, works at a sex shop, while lead guitarist Bedwin (who is suffering from writers block) is obsessed with a Fritz Lang movie that he sees again and again.

The book revolves around the relationship between Lucinda and Carl, a regular caller to the complaint line that she falls in love with. After repeatedly listing to Carl's dark any cynical musings, Lucinda begins to use his words as song lyrics. When Carl find out about this he forces himself into the band with disastrous consequences.

On the surface, this story is fairly interesting, while the pace and flow is pretty good. A big problem, however, is the book's numerous pretentious passages that make the reader roll their eyes in disbelief. For instance, what is one supposed to say when reading this: "But I change others. I affect people. Women. Something happens to them, but nothing happens to me. The sameness of my life is confirmed by the effect I have on women."

Or how about this gem of a paragraph, that has the label "pretentious goof" written all over it: "It's going to be a dance party," said Falmouth. "Only the rule is that you can't bring anyone you know. And you have to wear headphones. You have to listen to whatever you prefer to dance to, your own mix. If people don't have their headphones we'll provide them at the door, like neckties and jackets at a club. What I want is a sea of dancing bodies, each to their own private music. I might call it Party of Strangers. Or maybe Aparty, like apart, y." 

And of course, there is this immortal sentence, "There is nothing sadder than being a genius of sex."

So I repeat: I'm not sure if Lethem is a pretentious goof or an excellent satirist. What I do know, however, is that by the end of this book I wanted to punch the characters in the face.

2 out of 5 stars