Thursday, December 29, 2011

Book Review: Motherless Brooklyn

My usual haul of Christmas gifts always includes a number of books.  This year, this was one of them, given to me by one of my brother-in-laws.

Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem is a very good work.  From looking a the descriptions of his other writings, this might be the most straight forward of his creations as the others are more closely related to sci-fi whereas this is firmly in the crime-drama, detective story genre.

The characters, even the lead who suffers from Tourettes can be a bit cliche and in the standard mold of a crime drama (old mafia bosses, cheating wives, Japanese Yakuza, small time thugs, etc.) but it is Lethem's way of bringing their surroundings to life that makes the book work.

Given Lethem was raised and lives in Brooklyn and has a home in Maine, its not much of a surprise that he sets the book in these two locales.  Lethem seems to know each like the proverbial "back of his hand".  He gets the tone, language and atmosphere of each dead perfect and that's what makes the book so good.

Told in the first person perspective it is easy to fall in with the narrator as he knows the in and outs of each street corner, knows the neighborhoods, the ethnic mix, the true feeling of NYC and Brooklyn in particular--or at least you feel he does (I really have no idea since I've not lived in Brooklyn).  Regardless, watching a damaged (emotionally and physically) individual try and untangle the spaghetti soup that is the murder of his mentor/boss is great fun.  Motherless Brooklyn won't win a prize for the most earth-shattering or intellectual novel of any year but it sure wins Lethem a lot of new fans.

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