Thursday, March 18, 2010

Read This Book

by Sean Flannigan

Jonathan Lethem, Motherless Brooklyn, 1999

Recently, I went to an event at the Sunset Tavern in which an author I hadn't yet read talked to The Stranger's Paul Constant about his work, his likes and the comic he was writing, about an obscure rarely seen superhero called Omega The Unknown from the mid-seventies. This author's name was Jonathan Lethem, one of a trove of talented New York writers such as two other Jonathans, Safran Foer and Ames, as well as Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon and Norman Mailer. I enjoyed the talk quite a lot and proceeded afterwards to gather up his books into my collection, my ever burgeoning collection.

Lethem is one of a number a great new writers who are making it OK to give a nod at comics or genre without referring to them as one's "guilty pleasures." These guilty-pleasure-people are insecure about their image and have not given credit where it was due for too many years. Lethem recently completed a ten-issue series of the comic Omega The Unknown, published in 2006, after being offered the chance to write any comic he wanted. Apparently this very obscure superhero made an impact on him as a young man. Omega is an alien prototypical creation with superhuman strength, some psychokinetic powers and a psychic rapport with other organic Protar beings (the race from the planet Protaris in the Regreb System in the Milky Way Galaxy). Pretty cool.

In the realm of full-length genuine literature, he lays claim to many published works, most notably Fortress of Solitude (heavy reference to Superman), Chronic City (most recently) and Motherless Brooklyn (the book I implore you to read).

I would implore you to read Motherless Brooklyn. It is good. The main character/narrator, Lionel Essrog, is a Tourettic New Yorker in the employ of a seedy small-time gangster named Frank Minna at a quote unquote detective agency. Lionel Essrog, whose name itself is a Tourettic linguistic feast, details his past with his fellow Minna Men from their beginnings at home for orphans to the point of Frank Minna's death, from which unfolds a detective story of a wholly different kind. The story at times references Philip Marlowe, the private detective at the center of Raymond Chandler's crime novel The Big Sleep, a highly praised novel which Time thought to put in their 100 Best Novels published after 1923. Lethem obviously recognizes his influences.

This book had me reading it at any two minutes I had available. Lethem's ability to create a world of language around this character for which language is the ultimate compulsion was astounding. This book and this author have joined the ranks of my highest shelf (which is where I keep the books I love the most, and where it will shoulder Milan Kundera, Paul Auster, Michael Chabon and Philip K. Dick). I suggest this book highly and I will be reading further Lethem books myself.

1 comment:

  1. sean,
    upon your recommendation alone i read this. loved it. LOVED IT.
    and, i missed wishing you farewell. hope you are doing well.

    -tiff skyes