20070411

You Don't Love Me Yet

Jonathan Lethem - You Don't Love Me Yet

Betyg: 3 (OK, 3 1/2 då)

At the beginning of this book, two of the main characters go to an art exhibit consisting of a large white cube entitled "Chamber Containing The Volumetric Representation of the Number of Hours It Took Me to Arrive At This Idea". They sneak inside it and have sex. And I can't quite shake the idea that Lethem is aware that that's a pretty good summation of his new novel; clever, ironic, funny, occasionally sexy (Woody Allen sex, not Penthouse sex)... but as if the sum total of it is no more than "Book Containing 224 Pages Filled With What Happens To The Main Characters In The Time It Took To Write It".

Sure, it's hilarious sometimes. He's come up with a cast that is just slightly too quirky, a just slightly too-good-natured-to-be-vicious attack on the whole hipster music scene that makes the book come across as a little bit of a novelization of Questionable Content, and a satire on the whole idea of owning - whether it be things, persons or ideas; stealing kangaroos is right, stealing songs are wrong. He lands some pretty good punches at the whole immaterial rights debate (and what is more immaterial yet essential than love?). (Incidentally, I paid US $36 for this immaterial fun. I'm just saying.)

But yet there's something missing. I think Lethem would appreciate a pop culture reference, so I'm going to quote Neil Young:
Well, the artist looked at the producer, the producer sat back
He said "What we have got here is a pretty good track
But we don't have a vocal and we don't have a song
If we could get this thing accomplished nothin' else could go wrong"
So he balanced the ashtray and he picked up the phone
And said "Send me a songwriter who's drifted far from home
And make sure that he's hungry and make sure he's alone
And send me a cheeseburger and a new Rolling Stone"
In his attempt to satirize man's obsession with what he doesn't have, what he can't own, what he can't do by himself (there's a lot of masturbation going on here too, both physically by the characters and mentally by the writer) Lethem has a pretty good track but seems to have forgotten to make it all into a song, something with a hook, something cohesive, something with substance. Apparently, some smart Hollywood producer has bought the rights to this and is presumably going to try and turn it into something palatable for the mass market. The irony of that isn't half as funny as the book is at its best, but it's hard to overlook.

I'm rambling. A book should of course stand on its own, without my prejudice about its later use. But it helps if it CAN, and Lethem's recurring mantra of "you can't be deep without a surface" seems to miss out on the fact that even the ocean's depths are actually filled with LIFE as well - not just quirkiness, verbal jousting and the odd satirical bit. That sounds harsh. Sorry. But he got my hopes up with his previous stuff, and I'll accept nothing less than genius from Mr Lethem. This is funny, cute, occasionally somewhat poignant (though it's nothing he hasn't covered before) and I really DO like it - I just don't love it.

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