Motherless Brooklyn Paperback – Jul 1 2004
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Top Customer Reviews
Some truly great novelists have created classics of crime, horror, fantasy, and science fiction that transcend genre: Philip K. Dick's 'A Scanner Darkly', Dashiell Hammett's 'The Maltese Falcon', Richard Price's 'Lush Life', and Neal Stephenson's 'Anathem' are fine examples. With 'Motherless Brooklyn', Lethem showed off those heavy hands to score a 1st Round KO and take the title -- the National Book Award, one of the big ones. Only the Pulitzer Prize carries more prestige, and not by much. He was free of the ghetto, writing big-'L' Literature.
The beauty of this new-found freedom was that Lethem could write science fiction, and show up in the Literature section, as one of many respected subcategories called Speculative Fiction. When Cormac McCarthy wrote 'No Country For Old Men', he wasn't slumming in the crime-fiction ghetto, he was writing the kind of Crime Fiction that exists just across the border from Mickey Spillane's hometown, a twin city just inside Literature's jurisdiction, sometimes home to Paul Auster. 'The Road' -- which won the Pulitzer -- may have seemed like pure post-apocalyptic science fiction, but again, it's 'Speculative Fiction' in the case of a writer like McCarthy... and it's sure as hell Literature.Read more ›
The narrator, Lionel Essrog (a name just dying for a Tourettic tic) has Tourette's Syndrome, which makes him a wonderful and unique storyteller. And the reader can't help but laugh out loud at his unexpected yellings and shoulder taps. I kept expecting Lionel to become annoying or to find a cure for his tics, but Lethem gratefully keeps him true to character the entire book. The word associations and spoonerisms that Lionel erupts with will be interesting to anyone who likes wordplay.
The detective part of this novel comes in when Minna, a low status criminal, is knifed. It's up to his gang, the Minna Men, of which Lionel is one, to figure out whodunnit. What occurs is a tongue-in-cheek crime story that actually manages to be a pretty good mystery in the end.
This is overall a pretty strange book in that it was never what I expected it to be. Hilarious, mysterious, tragic, and touching. How did Lethem manage to do all this in just over 300 pages? I'll be reading another Lethem very soon....
The ordinary detective slowly uncovers clues through a mixture of intimidation and verbal trickery. Lionel, on the other hand, is ridiculed or roughed up by nearly everyone he meets. And still he brilliantly tracks down leads and uses his apparent weaknesses to his advantage. All other conventions are also reversed. Dark secrets turn out to be less dark than we imagined. Instead of being coy and mysterious, the women practice Zen and say what they mean.
Lethem has done an excellent job of replicating the tension, pace, and intrique of the very best detective novels, but he has done so in a way that no one else has before. And the brilliant writing and masterful descriptions of New York City make it easy to see why this novel has garnered so much praise from people and publications that ordinarily don't care much for genre writing.
Fans of the genre, read this book to get a taste of something wonderfully different. Fans of literature, read this book to experience the very best of the detective genre. Also, if you liked this book, try Martin Amis's NightTrain.
Most recent customer reviews
A great read. Glad I came upon this book by chance. Very highly recommended to everyone who enjoys a good story with a unique outlook. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Paul Mitchell
Like others in this forum, I found this book to be a huge disappointment. The writing, as others have pointed out, was good, as was the character development of Lionel, and the... Read morePublished on April 30 2006 by Steve Z. McCauley
Otherwise, I would just give it two or three stars. But if Lethem does not have Tourette's, he still does an unbelievably authentic job of giving us its quirks - especially the... Read morePublished on June 19 2004
Lethem has created a sympathetic, intriguing, and wonderfully whimsical alternative to the hard-boiled detective. Read morePublished on June 13 2004 by mmcwatters
As a crime fiction reader, writer, and Brooklynite, I don't understand the positive reviews of this book. Read morePublished on May 14 2004 by A. Alcalay
In another writer's hands, the concept of a narrator suffering from Tourettes', and trying to solve a murder could have been a gimmicky mess. Read morePublished on May 7 2004 by Rocco Dormarunno
I'm surprised to see that this book has generally gotten such positive reviews. I was excited to read it after hearing the author discuss his new book on the radio, but I found it... Read morePublished on March 24 2004