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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

You Don't Love Me Yet

Jonathan Lethem’s 2007 novel is a slight and ultimately unsatisfying story of an indie-rock band which finds itself unexpectedly on the brink of success.

The novel focuses primarily on the experiences of bassist Lucinda Hoekke as she recovers from a break-up with her band’s lead singer. Lucinda takes a job with a performance artist, answering the phones at his conceptual complaint line. Against the artist’s rules, she meets and begins an intense love affair with a frequent caller. The caller’s abstruse musings on contemporary life and its frustrations strike Lucinda as good material for rock songs. Later her relationship with the chronic complainer will threaten her relationship with her bandmates.

That’s really it. Oh, don’t get me wrong, there are flashes of the traditional Lethem weirdness, but they all seem so superfluous that to include them in a plot summary seems superfluous. For instance, I neglected to mention that the lead singer, Matthew, has kidnapped an apparently haughty kangaroo from the zoo where he works, and is locked in a cold war with his boss Dr. Marian. I also didn’t bring up the fact that the band’s drummer, Denise, works in a sex toy store called No Shame. Or that the band’s sensitive-genius songwriter obsessively watches a film by Fritz Lang to find the hidden meanings in the set design.

The reason I left these somewhat more interesting elements out of the summary is that, for all intents and purposes, Lethem has left them out of the main plot. It is truly hard to imagine why the author bothered writing in a kidnapped kangaroo only to have it amount to so little in the way of story. This is Lucinda’s story all the way, apparently, however much the reader might like a broader perspective.

You Don’t Love Me Yet is a short read, but its brevity does not produce much wit. In fact, this novel is so slight it barely registers at all, leaving no impression on the reader who chances upon it.

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