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Clif's Book World

Adventures from reading books captured within short reviews.

Motherless Brooklyn

Motherless Brooklyn - Jonathan Lethem, Frank Muller Imagine a personality with Tourette's combined with compulsive touching and counting, surrounded in an environment of Brooklyn speak and Mafia threats. This combination makes for some hilarious conversational interchanges in this book. Is it a murder mystery? A noir thriller? A stylistic tour de force? Yes! Jonathan Lethem has created an unforgettable character in loyal, sweet-natured, Tourette’s-afflicted Lionel Essrog. This sometimes hilarious and always absurd story takes us in and around Brooklyn and into the unfamiliar point of view of a man with Tourette’s syndrome. The result is a little like The Sopranos: surprisingly lyrical, complexly masculine, and toughly tender.

Lethem received the National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2000 Gold Dagger award for crime fiction for Motherless Brooklyn. In 2005 it was announced that Edward Norton would direct, adapt, and star in a film adaptation, set in the 1950s. The movie will be released in 2009.

The entertainment value of this book is not in the plain vanilla mystery plot, but rather in the skillful descriptive writing. The most intriguing focus of the book for me was the exploration of the inner workings of the Tourette's mind. The first person description of the Tourette's experience is so vivid I can't help but believe it has some validity. Below are some example quotations from the book.

"Tourette's is just one big lifetime of tag, really. The world (or my brain---same thing) appoints me it, again and again. So I tag back. Can it do otherwise? If you've ever been it you know the answer."

"Me, I became a walking joke, preposterous, improbable, unseeable. My outbursts, utterances and tappings were white noise or static, irritating but tolerated, and finally boring unless they happened to provoke a response from some unsavvy adult, a new or substitute teacher."

"... all I do is compress and release, over and over, never saving or satisfying anyone, least myself. Yet the tape plays on ..."

Here's a quote from Lionel, the book's protagionist, explaining why he doesn't look (or act) like a detective:
" "Maybe you're thinking of detectives in movies or on television." I was a fine one to be explaining this distinction. "On TV they're all the same. Real detectives are as unalike as fingerprints, or snowflakes." "

This is an example of a book that I believe is more entertaining listened to as an audio book rather than read. In the audio format the Tourette's ticks are jerky outbursts much closer to the real thing than anything that my mind is able to conger up. At least for me, when I read the written words that are part of the Tourette's ticks they're just nonsense words to be skimmed over. Also, the Brooklyn accents come through in the audio format in a way that my mind can't duplicate.