Filed under: Chronic City, Jonathan Lethem, Motherless Brooklyn, The Fortress of Solitude | Tags: Chronic City, Edward Norton, Jonathan Lethem, Motherless Brooklyn, The Fortress of Solitude, Watchmen
Motherless Brooklyn is more character driven than Fortress, the plot is more engaging (though, Lionel, the Tourette’s inflicted narrator, is more engaging than the whole of the who-done-it detective plot), and in the end it was just a more satisfying read. I can definitely see why Edward Norton would want to adapt it. But still, a lot of what I’ll call its Letheminess—simply meaning, superior prose masking a lack of emotional depth—got in the way of making it a book capable of moving me. That’s why this quote on the front cover is so confusing:
“The best novel of the year . . . utterly original and deeply moving.”—Esquire
While it may have been the best novel of whichever year it was published and there’s no arguing with its originality—although, I might take issue with the use of the word “utterly”—I can’t for the life of me figure out what could have moved this particular critic. On a sentence-to-sentence level, Motherless Brooklyn is beautiful. I can’t imagine ever being able to write as well as Jonathan Lethem so perhaps his sentences moved Mr. Esquire. But for me, a moving novel inspires more than admiration. A moving novel stirs something up inside of me, shifts me, forces me to re-read the last page or sometimes the entire thing all over again immediately. When a book moves me, I miss it as soon as the last line is read. Motherless Brooklyn was a good book, maybe even a great book, but it wasn’t moving.
I started this Lethem thing because of an article about his upcoming novel Chronic City—the description made it sound incredibly cool, as magazine descriptions are wont to do. Now, after finishing two of his most acclaimed novels, I’ve begun to look upon October 13 with some dread. Chronic City is going to be a long one according to Lethem and if his new batch of improbably named characters are as distant as the ones in Fortress and Motherless, I don’t think I’ll be able to finish the book. The weird thing about Lethem’s characters is that even when he gives me tons and tons of background info, even when he plainly lays out their psychoses, I still feel nothing for them.
Maybe that’s just a personal problem.
A side note: I think Lethem may have been channeling Watchmen with Motherless Brooklyn. Lionel is kind of a Rorschach character—the guy everyone thinks is crazy, the one who’s just a little too earnest. Also, the group of superheroes in Moore’s graphic novel were called the Minute Men, right? And Lionel calls the group of low-level thugs he belongs to, Minna Men. After reading Fortress and Motherless, practically back-to-back, I do believe that I’m starting to figure out who this Lethem guy is; and he likes his superheroes.