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Motherless Brooklynby Jonathan Lethem
Winner of the 1999 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction
Winner of the 2000 Gold Dagger
A New York Times Notable Book for 1999
The narrator, Lionel Essrog, known as The Human Freakshow, suffers with Tourette's syndrome and though you might not want to know him in real life, he's got to be one of the most brilliant characters ever created. His quirky rants put me off at first, but I found myself being drawn closer to him with each page, and by the end of the book, I had gained a whole new appreciation for Lionel Essrog. He's trying to find the murderer of the only man who gave him anything resembling fatherly care. Lionel's search takes on rather desperate proportions, but therein lies much of this book's beauty. There's nothing to compare it to a true original.
Synopses & Reviews
A decade ago, science fiction novelist Dan Simmons likened the literary world to Cold War Berlin: "mainstream fiction [had] become too much like East Berlin — gray, joyless, lifeless, hierarchical, with its store shelves empty or stocked with a few Party-approved items that no one wanted to buy." He suggested that the lucky writers on the west side of the wall, his fellow genre writers, had a responsibility: "[The] color, energy, vitality and ongoing party of West Berlin — the energetic genres — [need] to kick down the wall and bring some life back to the East Berlin of contemporary serious fiction." Hyperbolic, for sure. But he had a point. And at least one "genre" writer has proved him prophetic. In his first five works of fiction, Jonathan Lethem established a reputation as a writer of rich imagination, kinetic prose, and literary depth. Yet, despite the respect he had earned, in terms of readership and stature, Lethem remained confined by the genre label. This all changed with the publication of his fifth novel. A wildly innovative play on the classic hard-boiled crime novel, Motherless Brooklyn is narrated by Lionel Essrog, the "Human Freakshow." A victim of Tourette's syndrome, Lionel is prone to uncontrollable verbal outbursts. Sometimes his exclamations are merely bizarre. But not always: "Reality needs a prick here and there, the carpet needs a flaw. My words begin plucking at threads nervously, seeking purchase, a weak point, a vulnerable ear....That's when it comes...'Eat me!' I scream." In Lethem's hands, Essrog's Tourette's is far more than a clever device. Essrog is at once hugely entertaining and genuinely sympathetic, one of the most compelling — and unlikely — characters in recent fiction. Essrog was also Lethem's passport out of the science fiction ghetto. Motherless Brooklyn was enthusiastically embraced by the politburos of several genres, receiving both a major literary award (the 1999 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction) and a prominent genre prize (The Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger Award). East Berlin will never be the same. Farley, Powells.com
One of America's hottest young writers — the only novelist named as one of Newsweek's '100 People for the New Century' — presents a genre-bending, mind-blowing tale.
Lionel Essrog, a.k.a. the Human Freakshow, is a victim of Tourette's syndrome (an uncontrollable urge to shout out nonsense, touch every surface in reach, rearrange objects). A local tough guy and fixer, Frank Minna, takes up the adolescent Lionel and three other orphans from St. Vincent's Home for Boys and grooms them to become the Minna Men, a fly-by-night detective-agency-cum-limo-service — their days and nights revolving around Frank Minna, the secret prince of Brooklyn. Then one terrible day Frank is murdered, and Lionel must become a real detective, delving into the complex, shadowy web of threats and favours that make up Frank Minna's Brooklyn.
"Finding out whodunit is interesting enough, but it's more fun watching Lethem unravel the mysteries of his Tourettic creation. In this case, it takes one trenchant wordsmith to know another." Time
"With one unique and well-imagined character, Jonathan Lethem has turned a genre on its ear. He doesn't just push the envelope, he gives it a swift kick....A tour de force." The Denver Post
"Jonathan Lethem's sixth book, Motherless Brooklyn, superbly balances beautiful writing and an engrossing plot....Motherless Brooklyn succeeds in the end because the author cares about his creations, especially his protagonist, in whom he instills real humanity." Nicholas Kulish, Wall Street Journal
"Who but Jonathan Lethem would attempt a half-satirical cross between a literary novel and a hard-boiled crime story narrated by an amateur detective with Tourette's syndrome?...The dialogue crackles with caustic hilarity....Jonathan Lethem is a verbal performance artisit....Unexpectedly moving." The Boston Globe
"One of the greatest feats of first-person narration in recent Americn fiction." Washington Post
"Philip Marlowe would blush. And tip his fedora." Newsweek
"The best novel of the year....Utterly original and deeply moving." Esquire
"Wonderfully inventive, slightly absurdist...[Motherless Brooklyn] is funny and sly, clever, compelling, and endearing." USA Today
From America's most inventive novelist comes this virtuoso riff on the classic detective novel. Lionel Essrog, who has Tourette's Syndrome, and three other veterans from St. Vincent's Home for Boys work for a small-time mobster. When the mobster is fatally stabbed, Lionel's world is turned topsy-turvy. A National Book Critics Circle Award Winner.
From America's most inventive novelist, Jonathan Lethem, comes this compelling and compulsive riff on the classic detective novel.
Lionel Essrog is Brooklyn's very own self-appointed Human Freakshow, an orphan whose Tourettic impulses drive him to bark, count, and rip apart our language in startling and original ways. Together with three veterans of the St. Vincent's Home for Boys, he works for small-time mobster Frank Minna's limo service cum detective agency. Life without Frank Minna, the charismatic King of Brooklyn, would be unimaginable, so who cares if the tasks he sets them are, well, not exactly legal. But when Frank is fatally stabbed, one of Lionel's colleagues lands in jail, the other two vie for his position, and the victim's widow skips town. Lionel's world is suddenly topsy-turvy, and this outcast who has trouble even conversing attempts to untangle the threads of the case while trying to keep the words straight in his head. Motherless Brooklyn is a brilliantly original homage to the classic detective novel by one of the most acclaimed writers of his generation.
About the Author
Jonathan Lethem lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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