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Jonathan Lethem
You Don’t Love Me Ye
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2007

Doubleday / Random House
US First Edition Hardcover
ISBN 978-0-385-51218-3
226 Pages; $24.95
Publication Date: 03-13-2007
Date Reviewed: 04-30-2007

Index: General Fiction

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 radar.

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 and expressive.

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

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