Motherless Brooklyn is a take on the classic detective novel, sure to appeal to the Raymond Chandler/Dashiell Hammett/James M. Cain set. Aside from being staged in present-day Brooklyn, what primarily separates this book from the classics it pays homage to is its narrator, Lionel Essrog. He was a young orphan tapped to work for small-time mobster Frank Minna. Now he's a grown man trying to uncover the truth behind his boss-type father figure's brutal murder, under the guise of Minna's limo service/detective agency/front-for-ill-doings-about-town. Lionel also happens to have Tourette's syndrome.
For me, counting and touching things and repeating words are all the same activity. Tourette's is just one big lifetime of tag, really. The world (or my brain—same thing) appoints me it, again and again. So I tag back.
Can it do otherwise? If you've ever been it you know the answer. (pp. 5-6)
I'm not super familiar with Tourette's, but this is the best description of the condition I've ever heard. Ever-ever. And Lethem keeps DOING that.
My own name was the original verbal taffy, by now stretched to filament-thin threads that lay all over the floor of my echo-chamber skull. Slack, the flavor all chewed out of it. (p. 7)
But as he plays the role of detective to solve the mystery of Frank's death, he's thrown into situations where his Tourette's constantly threatens to interfere with his goal of uncovering valuable information. I mean, you can't just go around caressing strangers, says Polite Society.
And sometimes an impulse can put Lionel in physical danger. For instance, in a battle of wills with Albert the private security guard:
I began to want to grab at the nightstick in Albert's holster—an old, familiar impulse to reach for things dangling from belts, like the bunches of keys worn by the teachers at St. Vincent's Home for Boys. It seemed like a particularly rotten idea right now. . . .
As we brushed past Albert I indulged in a brief surreptitious fondling of his nightstick. (pp. 32-33)Aside from being positively edible, the writing FEELS classic. I would forget sometimes that the story wasn't set in the '40s. Then there would be a reference to Mariah Carey or power windows, and I would go, "EH?"
Oh look, moregoodwriting:
A part of each of us still stood astonished on the corner of Hoyt and Bergen, where we'd been ejected from Minna's van, where we'd fallen when our inadequate wings melted in the sun. (p. 79)
Have you ever felt, in the course of reading a detective novel, a guilty thrill of relief at having a character murdered before he can step onto the page and burden you with his actual existence? Detective stories always have too many characters anyway. And characters mentioned early on but never sighted, just lingering offstage, take on an awful portentous quality. Better to have them gone. (p. 119)Now . . . I just need to make it about me for a quick sec.
For as long as I can remember, I've had these random impulses to do inappropriate things at just REALLY inappropriate times. I'll be sitting in a quiet room (church, for example) and think, "What if I just stand up and yell, 'I HAVE TO POO'?" Or I'll be making with the small talk at a restaurant and think, "What if I poured my coffee on this person's head?" Or, slightly more concerning, I'll be standing at the edge of something very high up (say, just for example, the Golden Gate Bridge) and think, "What if I jumped?"
The impulses aren't particularly strong. I have never, in fact, done any of those three things mentioned above. But is it weird that I even THINK about it? Do I have some excessively watered-down form of Tourette's? Or am I just a badass rebel, propriety be damned?
More important, will I be thinking about pouring hot liquids in your lap the next time we get together?
|Me, at any given moment. Right now even.|