Review

You Don't Love Me Yet

by Jonathan Lethem

Deep
in the hearts of countless Americans under the age of 60 or so
beats a desire more potent than any craving for wealth or power ---
the dream of playing in a rock band. In his rollicking and tender
new book, Jonathan Lethem, award-winning author of highly praised
novels like MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN and THE FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE,
shines a fresh light on the pains and pleasures endured by those
who struggle to realize that dream.

Lucinda Hoekke, Matthew Plangent, Bedwin Greenish and Denise Urban
are fellow Gen-Xers living in Los Angeles ("the largest inhabited
abandoned city on earth") who toil at unfulfilling day jobs like
zookeeping (a kangaroo named "Shelf the Flyer" plays a key role in
the story) or clerking in a "masturbation boutique," merely to
provide the sustenance that enables them to pursue their music in a
band so tentative it lacks even a name. Bedwin, the band's
lyricist, suffers from writer's block. "My problem," he complains,
"is I don't believe in the place where the sentences come from
anymore." To his rescue rides Lucinda, the bass player, who's been
working in an art gallery owned by her ex-boyfriend, Falmouth
Strand. Her job is to answer telephones on a complaint line
Falmouth has created and publicized throughout the city to
encourage callers to unburden themselves of their grievances.

Lucinda begins to field the persistent calls of a man she nicknames
"the complainer," whose words become so seductive she decides to
transcribe and deliver them to Bedwin in the hope they'll shake him
from his creative doldrums. Her plan succeeds, and soon Bedwin has
produced a sheaf of new songs to join the band's standbys like
"Hell Is for Buildings" and "Canary in a Coke Machine."

Inevitably, Lucinda and "the complainer," whose real name is Carl,
meet and indulge in a sex-drenched romp spanning two days and
several locales in the Los Angeles area. Carl is an older man who
creates what he calls "itchy" slogans like "Pour Love on the Broken
Places" and "All Thinking is Wishful," which become ubiquitous on
billboards and buses around the city. Still intoxicated by the
afterglow of her new relationship, Lucinda joins the band in its
first public performance at an event called the "Aparty," where
they're expected to play "inaudibly" as participants dance to music
they listen to on headphones.

When the plans for the event go horribly awry, the band makes its
debut --- aloud --- and electrifies the audience with its new song,
"Monster Eyes," drawn from one of Carl's telephone monologues.
Music producers and disc jockeys descend on the group, and Carl,
who realizes he's the source of its reinvigorated songwriting,
insists on becoming the keyboard player. Soon the band, now named
"Monster Eyes," makes a live appearance on the radio show of
Fancher Autumnbreast, a legendary local DJ, with results that are
simultaneously hilarious and disastrous.

Younger readers will find themselves identifying with Lucinda and
her bandmates, while older ones may have difficulty suppressing a
tinge of frustration at their frequently juvenile behavior. "It was
often this way," Lethem writes, "life consisted of a series of
false beginnings, bluff declarations of arrival to destinations not
even glimpsed." All should agree that the characters are groping
their way toward a maturity that, with luck, will be in their grasp
someday soon.

In the case of a writer as gifted as Jonathan Lethem, there's no
question that YOU DON'T LOVE ME YET is far from his most
substantial or compelling work, but his protagonist Lucinda and her
supporting cast are artfully sketched and sympathetically
portrayed. The novel's depiction of the Los Angeles alternative
music scene and the young people struggling to carve out a niche
there has the ring of authenticity that will keep readers turning
the pages in this fresh and energetically plotted tale.

Reviewed by Harvey Freedenberg (mwn52@aol.com) on January 24, 2011

You Don't Love Me Yet
by Jonathan Lethem

  • Publication Date: March 13, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday
  • ISBN-10: 038551218X
  • ISBN-13: 9780385512183