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.
Filed under: Charles Dickens, Jonathan Lethem, Juliet Naked, Motherless Brooklyn, Nick Hornby, The Fortress of Solitude | Tags: A Christmas Carol, Andrew Davies, Bleak House, Charles Dickens, David Copperfield, Great Expectations, High Fidelity, Jim Carrey, Jonathan Lethem, Juliet Naked, Little Dorrit, Motherless Brooklyn, Nick Hornby, Oliver and Company, Pride and Prejudice, The Fortress of Solitude
…was finished in two days. I suppose it wouldn’t have been too difficult to read in a day but I’d rented the Emmy-award winning Little Dorrit miniseries early last week and the pull of those first two discs was astonishingly strong. (My Nick Hornby fanaticism’s primary ingredient, it would seem, is weak sauce.) Andrew Davies is responsible for this incredible adaptation and after some light googling I discovered that he also adapted the Colin Firth, A&E version of Pride and Prejudice—which is, of course, the adaptation that all other Pride and Prejudice adaptations are measured against. Judging from the bit of Little Dorrit that I’ve just watched and the one other thing of his that I’ve seen, it would appear that Mr. Davies can do no wrong.
After watching the first half of the miniseries I turned back to Mr. Hornby’s book but all of those wonderful Dickens characters lingered in my mind. Although I was reading a decidedly modern novel wherein much of the conflict revolves around the internet(s), thoughts of all those soot covered Cockneys persisted.
Dickens appeals to my most primal entertainment needs, this very basic desire to experience a great story—one with twists, turns, romance, humor, and debtors’ prisons. Everything about his work takes me back to this really innocent place. For a start, my earliest contact with his world was via Oliver and Company and then in 9th grade when we did Great Expectations, much of it was read aloud in class.
No one reads aloud anymore!
I don’t know but for me at least, there’s just something very wholesome about reading aloud (even when what’s being read aloud involves elderly shut-ins catching on fire).
As I made my way through Juliet, Naked, I was already plotting my next read. Dickens(!) My plans were only solidified when one of the characters in the Hornby book turned out to be a Dickens fan.
So I finished the Hornby quickly. It was good. Not mind-blowing or anything, and definitely not as enjoyable as High Fidelity, but it wasn’t a total disappointment—my (dubious) allegiance to Hornby remains unaltered (or something). (I will say this, though: Because one of the three protagonists is a self-doubting artist type there were some meta undertones and I couldn’t help but think that Hornby was using this book as a way of preemptively justifying any of its shortcomings.)
Anyway, that was on Thursday and my next move was to purchase David Copperfield or Bleak House or whatever. But Jesus, those books are thick. With no grade on the line I don’t know that I’d have the motivation to finish one. I’m going to need a little time for mental preparation, to build up my reading endurance before I tackle one of those bad boys. Or maybe I’ll just chuck the idea all together, finish the last two discs of Little Dorrit, and then go see the new Jim Carrey 3D version of A Christmas Carol next month.
I’m currently reading Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem and I already like it more than The Fortress of Solitude. My initial impulse was to attribute this to its more traditional structure; it’s more straightforward and feels less ambitious than the other one, so it’s easier to get wrapped up in. But that’s not fair. I think it’s just as ambitious as Fortress but that ambition is less transparent.