Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Jonathan Lethem”

Mrs Smith Reads Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem, #CBR4 Review #18

Motherless Brooklyn is a detective story with an interesting detective and a not so interesting story. There is something very endearing about Lionel Essrog, the story’s main character. Lionel, or Freakshow, as his friends call him, is an orphan and he suffers from Tourrette’s Syndrome. Jonathan Lethem does a remarkably credible job of explicating the running inner dialog, the tics and touches and the frustratingly uncontrollable exclamations that constantly ruin Lionel’s ability to blend in with Brooklyn’s Smith Street crowd.

Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem

FDBluth’s #CBR4 Review #7: Amnesia Moon by Jonathan Lethem

Mystery is a curious concept in the context of storytelling; its presence intrigues the audience, urging further exploration and commitment, while a sword of Damocles looms over, ready to fall at the slightest of mishandle. Too many stories have failed this way, nudging the audience along for far too long, without proper satisfaction, losing body and soul along the way. So why does it remain a popular way to foster interest in a story?

Perhaps it is the sense of largeness mystery invokes, a feeling that what we see and hear and read are not everything the story has to offer, that something lies beyond the veil of our limited perception. Or is it our thirst for knowledge, our natural inclination to learn, to understand, to comprehend? In any case, the effectiveness of a proper mystery cannot be understated, even if the answers may not match in effect.

Amnesia Moon, a novel by Jonathan Lethem, tells the story of Chaos, a resident of a post-apocalyptic America, subsiding on dog food cans and sleeping in an abandoned multiplex in the town of Hatfork, Wyoming. One day, Kellogg, the local tyrant who “dreams” his people to order, tells Chaos that the world is not as he believed, that there were no nuclear bombs that turned people into mutants, that everything was a whim of the imaginative. To understand what that means, Chaos leaves his town, accompanied by a fur-covered girl named Melinda, to explore what’s left of the American landscape and find the answer to the mystery of what and who.

What follows is a series of more-or-less unconnected events, with Chaos (and Melinda) as the unifying aspect. Lethem did write the novel by adapting various unpublished short stories he had written into one cohesive whole, and it shows in their wholly unique and seemingly random directions in which the adventure goes. This is not a bad thing, and the stories are organized to have an impact on the overall narrative of Chaos. The experience is somewhat reminiscent of a Philip K. Dick story, appropriate since much of the story echo numerous stories of Dick.

As to the central mystery of what happened to the world and who Chaos is, the story gives a reluctant and unenthusiastic shrug. As so many mysteries do, the intriguing question is perpetuated to the point that a properly satisfying answer seems nigh impossible. The book does answer some, but not all, to the mystery, and what answers we receive seems weak in comparison to the gravity of the question.

This does not hurt the quality, however, because the true strength of the book lies in its colorful characters. As Chaos goes through his journey, we come to love, hate, and care about the people we meet in various places, to a degree that the initial mystery seems inconsequential when compared. The journey becomes one of discovery rather than one of methodical purpose, and it thrives as a result. In fact, the story might have been even better if the few answers we received weren’t there at all.

This book is not for those of us who seek a destination, but for those who seek the journey itself.

moralla’s #CBR4 review #05: Lit Riffs edited by Matthew Miele

Lit Riffs is a collection of short stories inspired by songs of the writers’ choosing, the equivalent of a compilation of literary covers. So I made myself a playlist and set about this audiovisual experiment.

The stories are hit and miss, which, somewhat surprisingly, had little to do with my liking of the actual songs they were based on. They seem to work better when they are only tangentially related to their source material, best when the writing evokes the mood of the song. Certainly, the least effective were the ones that went so far as to quote lyrics – JT Leroy’s take on Foo Fighter’s “Everlong” – or take the songs too literally and therefore make the story less dynamic – Anthony DeCurtis’s on The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” (a pity as they are among my favorite songs included). Many of the stories try to recreate the circumstances described in the songs or how they came to be written. My favorite in that vein is “Bouncing,” Jennifer Belle’s take on Paul Simon’s “Graceland,” which, as she explains in her author’s inspiration section, is a prequel of sorts to the events in the song. It takes the disconnected images, often absurd, of the song and creates a narrative of yearning for the freedom that “Graceland” brings.

Jonathan Lethem’s contribution “The National Anthem” based on Yo La Tengo’s cover of Daniel Johnston’s “Speeding Motorcycle” has a sense of yearning too, for the things past and the things that never come to be. It takes to form of a letter between estranged friends describing failed relationships and failing to live up the expectations of your younger self. Lethem notes that “anyone whose heart isn’t broken by that song hasn’t ever been in love” and his story certainly expresses that sentiment.

Most impressive was Tanker Dane’s “Hallelujah,” a three page tale of an instrument through the ages titled for Jeff Buckley’s cover of the Leonard Cohen classic. Buckley’s version of the oft covered song has never been my favorite but Dane shines a new light on Buckley’s subdued guitar and vocals without referring to them at all, just the wonders of music and words.

toepic’s #CBR4 Review #3, Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem

The orphan, the freakshow, the tugboat, the narrator; this is Lionel Essrog. Through his mind, riddled with tourettic symptoms, we view his own private Marlowe detective story.

Lionel, along with 3 other orphans from St. Vincent’s Home for Boys, is mentored and employed by Frank Minna, a small time mobster that runs a car service/detective agency. The 4 boy’s entire world view is filtered through Frank’s observations and teachings. When Frank is killed, it falls to ”the Freakshow” to solve his murder.

Frank used to say“wheels within wheels” to sneer at the boys’ notions of coincidence or conspiracy. Motherless Brooklyn is full of wheels within wheels. Why is the Giant chasing Lionel? Where did Frank’s wife go? How are the Buddhists connected? What does this have to do with sea urchins? Can Lionel get thru an interrogation without screaming “Stickmebailey!!”?

Lethem has been praised for blending literary fiction with genre fiction. I think, in Motherless Brooklyn, he’s created an incredible book. It’s incredible because I generally hate any literary fiction set in New York. God help me if it’s literary fiction about a writer living in New York. Oh, you could have gotten the pretty girl but you screwed up?  😦  die in a fire.

Where was I? Oh right, this wasn’t anything like that. It was a mesmerizing look into the life of someone suffering from Tourettes, and a killer mystery to boot.

Most highlighted quote from Kindle users: And he was too moronic to be properly self-loathing—so it was my duty to loathe him instead.

If you like Michael Chabon, but wish he wrote more like Raymond Chandler.

Movie note: Edward Norton has optioned the film and plans to adapt, star in and direct. This is good news. Norton plays some of the best ‘crazy’ in Hollywood.

For all my reviews plus a baby goat on a skateboard click here.

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