Motherless Brooklyn

October 12, 2008
By Clarissa Fortier, New York, NY

“I’ve got Tourette’s. My mouth won’t quit, though mostly I whisper or subvocalize like I’m reading aloud, my Adam’s apple bobbing, jaw muscle beating like a miniature heart under my cheek,” asserts Leonel Essrog, the narrator of Jonathan Lethem’s “genre bending” novel Motherless Brooklyn. Never having seen or heard of Motherless Brooklyn before a few weeks ago, I would not have read this book without the encouragement of my English teacher. Luckily, I read it, because I really enjoyed the story and characters that the author invented.
Motherless Brooklyn, as the title suggests, takes place in Brooklyn, the home of its author Jonathan Lethem. The novel is characterized by Lionel’s fits of Tourrettic outbursts and constant contemplation of his condition. The narration, which is often fast paced, distorted and confusing, mirrors Lionel’s view of the world as he searches for the murderer of his superior, Frank Minna.
Lionel Essrog is one of the “Minna men,” a group of four men who Frank Minna takes from the St. Vincent’s Home for Boys orphanage to perform detective like tasks.
The “Minna Men,” all of whom see Frank Minna as an almighty figure, are thus thrown into a state of turmoil and loss when he is murdered one day on their usual detective tasks. Lionel Essrog becomes a real detective as he delves into the web of secrets to find Frank’s murderer.
Motherless Brooklyn is well written and widely entertaining, perhaps because Lethem does such a good job shedding light on the symptoms of Tourette’s. The character Lethem creates is touching and relatable; at many points I could identify with symptoms of Lionel’s condition by feeling the anxiety and confusion that Lionel feels.
After reading Motherless Brooklyn, I am not surprised by the success it has had. Motherless Brooklyn won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1999, the Crime Writer’s Association Gold Dagger in 2000 and it was a New York Times Notable Book in 1999. While this success can be attributed to Lethem’s cunning use of language and characters, I think it comes from Lethem’s deeper connection to a world where something substantial seems to be missing. To put it in Lethem’s words, “My books are all structured around some giant, gaping loss.” Read Motherless Brooklyn and you will learn more just about what that loss entails.

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This article has 2 comments.

mfortier48 said...
on Oct. 14 2008 at 9:17 pm

waffles2009 said...
on Oct. 13 2008 at 10:28 pm
nice book review! now i am very eager to read this book!


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