Sunday, November 25, 2007

Lethem spot on with novel about the travails of an L.A. rock band

Books now read in ’07: 110
Title: You Don’t Love Me Yet
Author: Jonathan Lethem
Genre: Fiction
Date Completed: 11-23
Pages: 224

An aspiring L.A. rock band goes from never-performed-in-public-but-we-sure-sound-good-in-rehearsal to a near mythic first performance to has-beens all in the span of 224 pages in Jonathan Lethem’s new novel, You Don’t Love Me Yet.

Lethem is spot on in his characterization of the band, the inevitable hangers on it attracts when fame appears imminent and the all-to-sudden demise of its fortunes. Late in the novel the band, largely unnamed throughout, lands a coveted spot on a legendary L.A. radio rock show. Their interview with the host airs, but the live performance of their hit song doesn’t.

“Are you saying it’s gone?’ the band’s bass players asked the radio host. “It’s so gone, buttermilk,” says the host. “It’s like it was never there.”

Lethem is equally skillful in capturing the band’s sexual fumblings, as when Lucinda, the bass player, has a brief and unsatisfying sexual encounter with Bedwin, the band’s near-mute lead guitarist and “secret genius.” Within hours of the event, Lucinda comes to terms with her mistake, not by acknowledging it, but by redefining it as part of the band’s biography, as a “legendary moment, rapidly receding into the past.”

At times, You Don’t Love Me Yet feels William Gibson-ish. There is, for example, the complaint line as performance art and the writer of bumper stickers and slogans whose "complaints" furnish the framework of several monster songs.

And then there’s the kangaroo in the bathtub – but that’s pure Lethem.

One of the joys of You Don’t Love Me Yet is the photograph on the books cover. Yes, that’s Jonathan Lethem looking either sullen or brooding or, better yet, moodily goofy.

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