Seven years ago my husband taught me to love Jonathan Lethem. This is unusual because, though my husband is a deep and careful reader with a fantastic memory, I am the voracious one who recommends authors and always hungers to discuss the latest book with him before I forget it. When he kept telling me about this fantastic detective novel he was reading for school, I picked up Motherless Brooklyn and never gave it back.
I should have taken a clue from the Raymond Chandler epigraph, still I was surprised by the classic detective novel opening. I’ve read a lot of detective novels and one of the things I liked about Motherless Brooklyn was how it reimagined the genre whereas this book seemed to be pulled straight from it. I closed the book to examine the blurbs—references to both Chandler and Philip K. Dick. I’ve (sadly) never read Dick, but I have watched Blade Runner more times than I care to count. I started reading again and I started to understand—Lethem had immersed himself deeply in the genre so he could play with it from the inside. And it was fun.
One of my favorite things about Lethem is the freedom and playfulness with which he writes. From The Disappointment Artist to Men and Cartoons, I always feel like he is enjoying the writing process and that makes my reading all the more fun. I could go on and on about all the craft elements, and Lethem is an artist, but this week I simply want to appreciate the gift of a writer who loves writing.
I am reading this book slowly—savoring it—so it has been at my bedside for many nights. When my husband saw it, he mentioned how much he had enjoyed it. I said, yes, I loved Motherless Brooklyn but that this was a different approach to a detective novel. He said he’d read Gun, With Occasional Music years ago and asked me whether the kangaroo had started to talk. It was his copy I was marking up night after night and it must have lain on my to-read shelf for years. I’m glad I picked this book this week. I’m even more glad I can discuss every delicious page with my husband.
If this review made you want to read the book, pick up a copy of Gun, With Occasional Music or Motherless Brooklyn from Powell’s Books. Your purchase keeps indie booksellers in business and I receive a commission.