Jonathan Lethem, You Don’t Love Me Yet
2007, 224 pages, hardcover, $24.95
the urban, indie rock scene of Los Angeles sets the stage for this romantic farce by the talented Jonathan Lethem. Lucinda Hoekke, the third-person narrator and bassist for a struggling band, has plagiarized the lyrics to a song that may catapult the group into mainstream success. Carl Vogelsong, who works as a slogan writer (“Pour Sugar on the Broken Places” is one of his compositions), is the victim of this intellectual theft. He is Lucinda’s older and inappropriate lover, whose aging bulk has him resembling Marlon Brando in Last Tango In Paris. Like Brando, Carl has a cult of personality and the novel shows Lucinda swooning under his hypnotic self-absorption.
You Don’t Love Me Yet has a rhythmic jangle of romance and sex, and the plot hits on the comic and familiar beats of the rock-and-roll genre. The story depicts the creative chaos of music-making, the snaky temptations of the recording industry, and the eventual breaking up of the lovers and, of course, the band. But for all its good humor, the satiric melody of the novel is sung out of tune. It’s mostly the fault of single-note characters who are too insubstantial to lift their indie rock complaint to the level of critique. In addition, the mood of the book is smothered by an atmosphere of quirkiness that hangs over the story like LA smog, obscuring the novel’s wit and the casual brilliance of Lethem’s imagery. Take the following: “His words were like a pulse detected in a vast dead carcass.”
The readers impressed by the craft and ambition of Fortress of Solitude and Motherless Brooklyn should not be expecting the same orchestral punch in this latest novel. This song is modest. Nevertheless, it’s one worth listening to.