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You Don't Love Me Yet: A Novelby Jonathan Lethem
"[A] hilarious romp through the Los Angeles art scene and a shrewd parody of modern love. Though Lethem's reputation is already established, his voice is still so fresh and urgent that you might think you've found a great new talent. In fact, reading You Don't Love Me Yet is a lot like discovering a band — picking up the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' first EP, or Radiohead's Pablo Honey. You'll want to tell your friends to run out and buy the book. When they love it you can take credit for 'discovering' Lethem first." Snowden Wright, Esquire (read the entire Esquire review)
Synopses & Reviews
From the incomparable Jonathan Lethem, a raucous romantic farce that explores the paradoxes of love and art.
Lucinda Hoekke spends eight hours a day at the Complaint Line, listening to anonymous callers air their random grievances. Most of the time, the work is excruciatingly tedious. But one frequent caller, who insists on speaking only to Lucinda, captivates her with his off-color ruminations and opaque self-reflections. In blatant defiance of the rules, Lucinda and the Complainer arrange a face-to-face meeting — and fall desperately in love.
Consumed by passion, Lucinda manages only to tear herself away from the Complainer to practice with the alternative band in which she plays bass. The lead singer of the band is Matthew, a confused young man who works at the zoo and has kidnapped a kangaroo to save it from ennui. Denise, the drummer, works at No Shame, a masturbation boutique. The band's talented lyricist, Bedwin, conflicted about the group's as-yet-nonexistent fame, is suffering from writer's block. Hoping to recharge the band's creative energy, Lucinda "suggests" some of the Complainer's philosophical musings to Bedwin. When Bedwin transforms them into brilliant songs, the band gets its big break, including an invitation to appear on L.A.'s premiere alternative radio show. The only problem is the Complainer. He insists on joining the band, with disastrous consequences for all.
Brimming with satire and sex, You Don't Love Me Yet is a funny and affectionate send-up of the alternative band scene, the city of Los Angeles, and the entire genre of romantic comedy, but remains unmistakably the work of the inimitable Jonathan Lethem.
"Lethem (Fortress of Solitude; Motherless Brooklyn; etc.) strays from hometown Brooklyn to recount the near-fame experience of a Los Angeles alternative rock band. Its success depends on bass guitarist Lucinda Hoekke, an unwitting femme fatale whose irrational whims torture the artsy Gen-Xers in her orbit. When the novel opens, she's answering phones for a complaint line designed to also function as a 'theatrical piece' and is charmed by the eloquent gripes of one serial caller, a professional phrase writer named Carl. (He's responsible for coining 'All thinking is wishful,' among others.) They embark on a sex-drenched bender that culminates with the band's debut performance — a breakout success. Lucinda is the band's 'secret genius,' having provided the ideas for the catchiest songs; only she cribbed them from Carl, whose cooperation must be purchased with a token position in the band. Zany disaster ensues in this entertaining but largely insubstantial romantic farce. Lethem tricks out the plot with his usual social wit (music moguls are 'unyouthful men in youthful clothes'), but from a writer whose previous books have carved new notches on the literary wall, this measures up as stunted growth." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Lucinda Hoekke plays bass in a Los Angeles rock band that doesn't have a name, has never played a gig and whose songwriter can't come up with any new songs. To make matters worse, the central character in Jonathan Lethem's peculiar, funny and occasionally surreal new novel has just broken up with her boyfriend, Matthew (the band's singer), and lost her job as a barista. Her future is not so bright... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) that she needs to wear shades. To make ends meet, Lucinda agrees to answer phones for the Complaint Line, an art project where anonymous callers register their unhappiness about anything and everything: 'The complainers spoke of their husbands and wives and lovers and children, from cubicles of their own they whispered their despair at being employed, they called to disparage the quality of restaurants and hotels and limousines, they whined of difficulties moving their bowels or persuading anyone to read their screenplays or poetry. They fished for her sympathy.' Adding a playful touch, Lethem includes the complaint line number on the back cover. Feeling whiny? Call 213-291-7778. Trust us, it works. Lucinda quickly tires of all but one caller, 'the brilliant complainer, who interested her entirely too much.' For Lucinda, there is just something about what happens when they talk that she can't shake, and soon she is clinging to his every word, replaying and dissecting every conversation, discerning meaning and import in his odd phrases and unintentional aphorisms. Whether it's love or confusion is difficult to gauge, but Lucinda quickly sheds anonymity and begins an affair with the Complainer. At the same time, she also begins feeding the strangely inspirational things he says to her to the band's songwriter. He, in turn, adds his own lyrics, works out arrangements, and — voila — the band is finally going places. This may seem the makings of a fairly flimsy plot for a novel, and in many respects it is. But then this is less a novel than a cultural manifesto about plagiarism. You see, just as the band's fortunes seem set to take off, the Complainer — an older, slovenly and bloated figure who is somehow rich though he doesn't have a job and somehow appealing despite his misanthropy — decides that the band's songs are really his and that he wants in on the action. When the band's drummer asks about his intentions, the Complainer responds, 'I want what we all want. To move certain parts of the interior of myself into the external world, to see if they can be embraced.' As he insinuates himself into the band, the Complainer's passive-aggressive demands hasten the group's destruction. By insisting on what are, at best, tangential claims to the songs, by claiming that he is being plagiarized, he kicks the band in its creative kneecap and sends it tumbling before its artistry can be realized. Plagiarism is on Lethem's mind these days. Far from decrying it, he embraces the dirty word, making the case that it is an essential part of the artistic process. 'It becomes apparent that appropriation, mimicry, quotation, allusion, and sublimated collaboration consist of a kind of sine qua non of the creative act, cutting across all forms and genres in the realm of cultural production,' he writes in a devilishly clever essay on plagiarism titled 'The Ecstasy of Influence' in Harper's February issue. Lethem puts forward the arguments for plagiarism more elliptically in this novel, but the questions are the same: Do artists own their creations, or is the creative process a never-ending collage, a cut-and-paste of conscious and subconscious influences that is by its very nature plagiaristic? As if to emphasize his thesis that all art is in some sense borrowed, Lethem begins his book with lyrics from songs by the Vulgar Boatmen and Roky Erickson. Both songs share the same title: 'You Don't Love Me Yet.' Joe Heim, the assistant editor of The Washington Post's Sunday Source section, would like to acknowledge appropriating lines from songs by Timbuk 3, Lucinda Williams and Jimi Hendrix in this review." Reviewed by Bryan BurroughNicholas DelbancoJuan WilliamsFrancine du Plessix GrayJoe Heim, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"[D]reamily moving....Lethem mixes realism and trippiness, wit and heart....The result is a melancholy comedy of raucous manners. With minor-key brilliance, Lethem describes how alluring pop is crafted in a state of joyous tedium... (Grade: A-)" Entertainment Weekly
"Although it's decidedly lighter in tone than Lethem's more recent novels, with a spry, frolicking rhythm...it's still smart and funny, providing a biting satirical take on the intersection of art and commerce, integrity and facade." Los Angeles Times
"[L]ithe and perceptive but a b-side nonetheless. Comparing this effort to, say, Motherless Brooklyn is like comparing apples to skyscrapers. Lethem's capable of entire skylines, and when was the last time you were really wowed by a piece of fruit?" Booklist
"[A] slight, funny, elegiac Hollywood novel by a writer who refuses to repeat himself....Remember, these people don't go around looking for action. Events just collide with them. That's what makes this goofy, engaging comedy so much fun." Hartford Courant
"Lethem in a minor key. Not without its ridiculous charms, but nothing to sing about either." Kirkus Reviews
"[W]here [Lethem's] extravagant love for New York in Motherless Brooklyn and The Fortress of Solitude was matched by an equally wide-screen scope of narrative, he has shrunk himself to fit the narrower confines of his new book. He is too large a writer to make himself so small." Boston Globe
"Lethem's characters and ideas are made whole with his astonishing gift of language. He plays with it in ways no one else can....
"I wish this novel were funny and sexy, and something better than foolish. I wish it were brave." Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Lethem's newest is more entertaining romantic caper than daring literature. Recommended." Library Journal
"Lethem is not swinging for the fences here....But 'minor,' when referring to a writer this adventurous and idiosyncratic, need not equate to 'negligible.'...You Don't Love Me Yet, for all its discomfiting, sci-fi aesthetic, is a romantic farce at heart." South Florida Sun-Sentinel
About the Author
Jonathan Lethem is the author of six novels, including the bestsellers The Fortress of Solitude and Motherless Brooklyn, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award. He is also the author of two short story collections, Men and Cartoons and The Wall of the Sky, the Wall of the Eye, and a collection of essays, The Disappointment Artist. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, and Maine.
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