Stylish il­lu­sion of depth

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Ge­ordie Wil­liamson You Don’t Love Me Yet By Jonathan Lethem Faber & Faber, 224pp, $ 29.95

JONATHAN Lethem’s new novel opens in the cool and ster­ile con­fines of the Los An­ge­les Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art. Wan­der­ing through its gal­leries are Lucinda Hoekke and Matthew Plan­gent, two at­trac­tive, self- aware, twen­tysome­thing hip­sters who have met to end their re­la­tion­ship, a tick­lish ma­noeu­vre as they hap­pen to be mem­bers of the same band.

Re­luc­tantly set­tling on part­ing terms, they slip inside one of the over­size in­stal­la­tions for a farewell shag.

Two feel­ing souls, grasp­ing at in­ti­macy in the depth­less en­vi­rons of a post­mod­ern world, is what You Don’t Love Me Yet , Lethem’s first fiction since his bril­liantly am­bi­tious The Fortress of Soli­tude , is all about. Or would be if Lethem’s char­ac­ters were not so wed­ded to the realm from which he would have them es­cape. For an au­thor who has spent his ca­reer gam­bling that pop cul­ture virtues would win out over old school lit­er­ary ones ( and who, in The Fortress of Soli­tude , al­most con­vinced us), this latest work is a half­hearted bluff.

The band to which Lucinda and Matthew be­long is a mar­ginal af­fair. It re­mains name­less for most of the novel and its first gig ( pro­vided by a con­cep­tual artist) comes with the stip­u­la­tion that they play in si­lence as win­dow- dress­ing for a crowd of peo­ple danc­ing to their in­di­vid­ual iPods. What they do have go­ing for them is Matthew, a lead singer with rock star looks, some fine songs by the band’s shy ge­nius, Bed­win, and a stub­born de­ter­mi­na­tion to es­cape their day jobs.

But by the time we meet them, in­er­tia rules. Matthew is dis­tracted — he has been sacked from his work at the zoo for mak­ing off with one of its kan­ga­roos, an an­i­mal he be­lieves to be suf­fer­ing from en­nui and which he keeps hid­den in the bath­room of his apart­ment — while Bed­win is cre­atively blocked, spend­ing his days watch­ing old Fritz Lang movies.

Lucinda works the phones at a com­plaints hot­line, where she is drawn to the voice of a man she dubs the com­plainer. They meet and al­most im­me­di­ately jump into bed. The com­plainer ( real name Carl) turns out to be a mas­ter of pomo drollery; he makes a liv­ing think­ing up tags for bumper stick­ers. Lucinda gives his tran­scribed phone con­ver­sa­tions, tales of erotic woe, to Bed­win, who adapts their words for a fresh batch of songs, ma­te­rial so good that it draws the at­ten­tion of a leg­endary DJ, who in­vites the band to per­form on his ra­dio show. At the last mo­ment Carl de­mands rec­om­pense in the form of a place in the band. It all ends badly.

There is hu­mour here and some gor­geous prose — Lethem is an ex­pert on west coast weird­ness — but the re­sult is frail. The nar­ra­tive flares up and dies down, in­ex­pli­ca­bly. It makes desul­tory ex­cur­sions down all man­ner of al­leys, all of which prove to be dead ends. While it is rel­a­tively brief, less an ex­panded novella than a novel too hip to be both­ered, it feels long, its light, melan­choly tone marred by por­ten­tous asides and pas­sages des­tined for the short list of the Lit­er­ary Re­view Bad Sex in Fiction award.

Its last line reads: ‘‘ You can’t be deep with­out a sur­face.’’ Maybe. But on the ev­i­dence of You Don’t Love Me Yet , nei­ther can the fash­ion­ably su­per­fi­cial of­fer more than the il­lu­sion of depth.

Ge­ordie Wil­liamson is a Syd­ney lit­er­ary critic.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.