Title: Motherless Brooklyn
Rating: 2 Stars
I am totally prepared to admit that I’m not judging it appropriately. After all, it is a National Book Critics award winner.
I did not really give it a fair shot. I read my more casual fiction as I’m exercising on a recumbent bicycle. The challenge is that I have other exercise as well (running, weights, racquetball), so I quite often only get to ride the bike once a week. It can take me several weeks to finish a book, which makes it difficult for me to stay in touch with it.
Therefore, there’s a very good chance that I would have given this a higher score if I read it in one or two sittings, but I did not do so, so please do keep it in mind.
I just wasn’t sure what to make of it. It is basically a genre mystery. There’s just not that much mystery there. Lionel Essrog is the protagonist. He was raised in an orphanage until he and three of his friends there were basically plucked out by a local small time gangster to do little errands for him. Eventually they grow up but are still working for the gangster.
The gangster is murdered. Lionel swears to avenge his murder. Not a lot of actual sleuthing takes place. He’s almost accidentally placed in situations, things happen to him, and from that he gleans a little bit more information.
A salient fact is that Lionel has Tourette’s, which causes him to obsess over things and to shout out, which I saw one reviewer call and it’s close enough to fit, Joycean puns of what he is hearing.
So, there’s a post-modern element to the work as well. I’m just not sure how sold I am on it. Pragmatically, is that how Tourette’s operates? Is Lethem taking advantage of Tourette’s for his own literary devices? I honestly don’t know, which made reading it a little disconcerting to me.
I didn’t know what to make of it. It wasn’t a wonderful mystery. It wasn’t a wonderful post modern novel. It wasn’t a wonderful orphan coming of age story.
Maybe I’ll try it again a little later and give it a fairer shot.