I just finished Jonathan Lethem's latest novel, You Don't Love Me Yet, a funny, quiet, improbable book about an art-rock band in Los Angeles that might be making it big.
I'm an enormous Lethem fan, and have been since Gun With Occasional Music, a hard-boiled detective story by way of Philip K Dick, and I particularly love how versatile he is, every book really different from the last. You Don't Love Me Yet is no exception.
The book follows the story of Lucinda, a barista and bass player who has just broken up with Matthew, her lead singer who works days as a veterinary assistant at the LA Zoo and burns with white-hot anger at the treatment of one of the kangaroos there. They remain friends, and remain in the band, and Lucinda finds herself quitting the coffee shop to work for a conceptual artist whose latest gimmick is the "Complaints Line," a phone number you can call and complain to.
It's there that she first encounters The Complainer, a brainy, deeply weird older man who seduces her through the complaints line -- and gives her the inspiration to get the band out of its rut and onto a stage.
You Don't Love Me Yet's characters -- a collection of earnest would-be rockers, rogue zoologists, cynical promoters, and sociopathic sloganeers -- are totally charming. Even the most repulsive among them is redeemed, shown to be somehow necessary, even if utterly reprehensible.
The storytelling in this book has all the daffy precision of an old Talking Heads song, an intense, nerdy diction like an autistic film student telling you about the secret meaning of an old black-and-white movie he's been studying by watching once a week for ten years (this actually happens in the book). And like an old Talking Heads album, say, Remain in Light, the tone of the book veers madly with Lethem's whims, from nearly pornographic to uproariously funny and then introspective and quiet again.
I listened to Lethem's unabridged reading of the book on CD, and he does a really good job with the material, delivering it with unashamed earnestness of his striving characters, throwing in the occasional comedy voice, and generally having a high old time. I love hearing writers read their own work, and Lethem is great at it.
Lethem on the copyfight
Lethem: free film option in exchange for public domain release after 5 years
Jonathan Lethem: remix my stories!
Lethem, Vaidhyanathan, et al talk copyright and plagiarism on NPR tonight
Jonathan Lethem on Philip K. Dick
Copyfight symposium in NYC with Lessig, Lethem, Art Spiegelman...
Lethem wins Macarthur "genius" award!
Lethem's new novel reviewed on Salon
Lethem to Gehry: High-rise Brooklyn is wrong
Prisonaires: golden age pop music from behind bars
Update: Rick Kleffel, sf interviewer extraordinaire, got an interview with Lethem in for his podcast last week