Somewhat to the frustration of fans who enjoy his surreal science fiction,
Jonathan Lethem is proving to be a remarkably versatile author. But
no matter what he's writing, he brings a significant skill with the
language and a mind full of interesting ideas to the party. His latest
novel, 'You Don't Love Me Yet' is short, sweet, and seemingly simple.
It's certainly easy to read. But prepare to be wowed by extraordinary
writing and some thought-provoking undertones while enjoying this
frothy romantic farce about a rock and roll band. Like any work of
art executed with great skill and finesse, it looks simple. Of course,
it is anything but.
The band has no name and they live scattered about the Los Angeles area.
Lucinda plays bass, Matthew sings, Denise plays drums, and Bedwin plays
guitar and writes the songs. Except when he's blocked. Like now. Good
thing that Lucinda's new gig, working for a performance art gallery,
has yielded some unanticipated side benefits. She answers phones for
a "complaint hotline". Falmouth, the owner of the gallery,
has created the hotline as part of his latest piece. Lucinda gets a regular
caller, whom she calls Carl the Complainer. He's just got it so far as
language goes, and Lucinda hand-picks his best language and forks it
over to the Bedwin and the band as hooks for new songs. The simple phrases
are the match to the band's fire, and when they perform at a "happening" for
Falmouth, two things in fact happen. They kick ass and Carl shows up.
He's kind of old, kind of fat and wants to be in the band.
Oh, and in the interim he's bedded Lucinda who is bewitched.
As simple as this sounds, there are a lot of complicated ideas rattling
around in Lethem's fun, frothy farce. Everybody in the bad is pretty
attractive and everybody is attracted to everyone else. These twenty-something
slackers are still figuring out what they want to be when they grow up.
Rock stars? Maybe. Matthew works at a zoo and in a tip to Lethem's SF
audience, he's kidnapped a lonely kangaroo and keeping it in his bathroom.
Bedwin is every shy smart guy you've ever known, every tongue-tied might-be-a-genius.
And Denise is the drummer for a reason; she keeps time, pays attention
and keeps the band in some semblance of order. Ever known a performance
artist? You will after you meet Falmouth. And Carl? You know him too.
Magnetic and repellant, old and experienced yet somehow deeply, permanently
immature. Lethem puts just enough grains of realistic unlikability in
his characters to make them deeply likable. They're a joy to be around.
And even thought he focus is on emotions and humor, there are lots of
very interesting ideas rattling around here. Lethem is a ruthlessly clear
observer of the process of art from the moments of total originality
to the plagiarizing and sponge-ifying that can't help but happen in a
society immerse in words, art and imagery. Where does collaboration end
and stealing begin? Who owns the words? Who owns the words? That's the
conundrum at the heart of this novel. Words don’t lend themselves
to ownership. By definition, they combat it. Lethem writes funny slapstick
scenes with grotty old Carl pretending to be a rock star, badly, and
evokes thoughts of the copyfight and the cultural battles that define
our world. Smart stuff, fun to read, and it gets right in under your
All of this is due to Lethem's language. For how easy it is to read,
'You Don’t Love me Yet' is a burnished gem. Every word is placed
with the sort of precision one finds in the best hit singles. Like rock
and roll single, which Lethem is consciously trying to emulate, there's
a symphonic effect at work. Layers of smart thinking, simply expressed,
build up to roar of excitement. It's a perfect example of a whole greater
than the sum of the parts. The humor is often expressed through virtuosic
wordplay that again is simple and easy to read but remarkably thoughtful
For those of us just looking for a good time, for fun in the sun, here
it is. Pick up 'You Don’t Love me Yet', enjoy the big thinks, the
smart words and the meta-fictional enjoyment of a work about owning words
that the author is giving away for adaptation. Do not expect science
fiction. Find a nice spot on the back porch, set your iPod to a mix of
great rock instrumentals and immerse your