Lionel Essrog is Brooklyn s very own self appointed Human Freakshow, an orphan whose Tourettic impulses drive him to bark, count, and rip apart our language in the most startling and original ways Together with three veterans of the St Vincent s Home for Boys, he works for small time mobster Frank Minna s limo service cum detective agency Life without Frank Minna, the charismatic King of Brooklyn, would be unimaginable, so who cares if the tasks he sets them are, well, not exactly legal But when Frank is fatally stabbed, one of Lionel s colleagues lands in jail, the other two vie for his position, and the victim s widow skips town Lionel s world is suddenly topsy turvy, and this outcast who has trouble even conversing attempts to untangle the threads of the case while trying to keep the words straight in his head Motherless Brooklyn is a brilliantly original homage to the classic detective novel by one of the most acclaimed writers of his generation There arelaugh out loud moments in this novel than in anything I ve read for ages Lionel, the orphaned aspiring detective with Tourettes is an adorable character Lethem helps us understand that we all have Tourettes to some extent Insomnia is a variant of Tourette s the waking brain races, sampling the world after the world has turned away, touching it everywhere, refusing to settle, to join the collective nod The insomniac brain is a sort of conspiracy theorist as well, believing t There arelaugh out loud moments in this novel than in anything I ve read for ages Lionel, the orphaned aspiring detective with Tourettes is an adorable character Lethem helps us understand that we all have Tourettes to some extent Insomnia is a variant of Tourette s the waking brain races, sampling the world after the world has turned away, touching it everywhere, refusing to settle, to join the collective nod The insomniac brain is a sort of conspiracy theorist as well, believing too much in its own paranoiac importance as though if it were to blink, then doze, the world might be overrun by some encroaching calamity, which its obsessive musings are somehow fending off The prose is consistently dazzling often making you see the familiar with a fresh enlightening dew on it and the plot is gripping from the word go What s not to like What is it about Brooklyn A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Joe Pitt in Half the Blood of Brooklyn Last Exit to Brooklyn Not to mention a hundred different movies Something there must spark the imagination, get at the essence of life Motherless Brooklyn is one of the most solidly crafted books I ve read this year Since it s the end of February that may not sound like much, so I ll throw in December and November of 2017 as well Really, it was just so pleasant to trust in Lethem, with page after pag What is it about Brooklyn A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Joe Pitt in Half the Blood of Brooklyn Last Exit to Brooklyn Not to mention a hundred different movies Something there must spark the imagination, get at the essence of life Motherless Brooklyn is one of the most solidly crafted books I ve read this year Since it s the end of February that may not sound like much, so I ll throw in December and November of 2017 as well Really, it was just so pleasant to trust in Lethem, with page after page doing fascinating things I was distrustful at first, I admit the protagonist has a serious case of Tourette s Syndrome whiched seemed like an Authorial Big Idea that could go awfully wrong But it doesn t It s handled with aplomb, with sensitivity, with humor with an even hand that gives expression to the experience My mouth won t quit, though mostly I whisper or subvocalize like I m reading aloud, my Adam s apple bobbing, jaw muscle beating like a miniature heart under my cheek, the noise suppressed, the words escaping silently, mere ghosts of themselves, husks empty of breath and tone But a man with Tourette s is not really what this is about, not really This is a homicide, a mystery which our protagonist, Lionel, feels compelled to solve Since his teens, Lionel has worked as a small time muscle for mentor and eventual friend Frank Minna Lionel and Gerald are supposed to be back up support for Frank at a meeting Things go terribly wrong, and the relationships within Minna s Men become fragile and uncertain Together the streets made a crisscrossed game board of Frank Minna s alliances and enmities, and me and Gil Coney and the other Agency Men were the markers like Monopoly pieces, I sometimes thought, tin automobiles or terriers not top hats, surely to be moved around that game board Here on the Upper East Side we were off our customary map, Automobile and Terrier in Candyland or maybe in the study with Colonel Mustard Lionel is a likable hero, Tourette s and all, driven to explain and organize around him He s an observant and humorous narrator, and if he is occasionally led around by his id, he s aware enough to understand it Communication is, of course, a challenge for Lionel I was afraid it would always be played for laughs, or worse yet, for pity, but Lethem has a nice balance between the internal thoughts and the external expression that allows for the occasional laughs with him instead of at him My jaw worked, chewing the words back down, keeping silent Gilbert s hands gripped the wheel, mine drummed quietly in my lap, tiny hummingbird motions This is what passed for cool around here I went in expecting a mystery, and Lethem delivers, certainly But wrapped up in the mystery is a solid, thoughtful portrayal of man who was given the closest thing to family and companionship he ever knew by a low level mobster The mobster, in turn, gets much of his own portrayal, at least from Lionel s viewpoint It ends up being a bit of a bromance, or a non jerk example of the dick fic genre see The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death At one point, I realized with some surprised that I was reading a solid literary fiction kind of book, with beautiful writing and human drama, wrapped up in a mystery The ashtray on the counter was full of cigarette butts that had been in Minna s fingers, the telephone log full of his handwriting from earlier in the day The sandwich on top of the fridge wore his bite marks We were all four of us an arrangement around a missing centerpiece, as incoherent as a verbless sentence Unlike mystery thrillers, it isn t a particularly teeth clenching, anxiety producing kind of book except, perhaps, on behalf of Lionel that requires one to stay up late to read onepage Yet there s something quite solid about it, curious, moving, wry and intriguing that let me immerse myself whenever I picked it up I feel like there s also solid re read potential here In fact, I think I will Might even be worth adding to my own library Reminds me of Sara Gran s Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, and that s high praise indeed I ll have to check out The Fortress of Solitude, also by Letham, when I can handle some straight up lit fic.Four and a half EatmeBailey tics, rounding up In detective stories things are always always, the detective casting his exhausted, caustic gaze over the corrupted permanence of everything and thrilling you with his sweetly savage generalizations This or that runs deep or true to form, is invariable, exemplary Oh sure Seen it before, will see it again Trust me on this one Assertions and generalizations are, of course, a version of Tourette s A way of touching the world, handling it, covering it with confirming language This was a very In detective stories things are always always, the detective casting his exhausted, caustic gaze over the corrupted permanence of everything and thrilling you with his sweetly savage generalizations This or that runs deep or true to form, is invariable, exemplary Oh sure Seen it before, will see it again Trust me on this one Assertions and generalizations are, of course, a version of Tourette s A way of touching the world, handling it, covering it with confirming language This was a very tightly crafted mystery, with a lot of soul, and a wonderful resolution A love letter to the classic detective novel, but also a love letter to loneliness I ve heard some people say that it felt too gimmicky, and to them I d say You re missing the point The parts you thought were gimmicky were just the reality that the character inhabited It s your fault you thought it was meant to be funny, and you might also be kind of an asshole After reading this, in my non expert self diagnosis, I think I may have some very subtle, extremely manageable Tourette s going on When I was a kid, I ticced like you wouldn t believe I d clamp my eyes shut in the middle of conversations and stop talking I d grind my jaw left and right until it ached I d grind my left shoulder blade on my ribs over and over again I only ever did one of these things at a time, and I had no control over them I d grunt repeatedly I d clench various muscles Each new tic would overwrite the previous one It was pretty debilitating back then These days, all I do is clench my right arm really hard when I m stressed, and roll my shoulders a little bit Much better Totally manageable.But yeah, the book is good, you should check it out I used to have a customer with Tourette s Back when I was a teenage supermarket teller, a million and a half years ago, she used to come through my line routinely At the time, I didn t reflect much on her condition other than that I assumed it must be tough for her occasionally, but how tough it really was I considered only in the vaguest sense, to the extent that I considered it at all Sorry, lady, but I was 17 and had a whole slew of 17 year old thoughts to preoccupy myself with She seem I used to have a customer with Tourette s Back when I was a teenage supermarket teller, a million and a half years ago, she used to come through my line routinely At the time, I didn t reflect much on her condition other than that I assumed it must be tough for her occasionally, but how tough it really was I considered only in the vaguest sense, to the extent that I considered it at all Sorry, lady, but I was 17 and had a whole slew of 17 year old thoughts to preoccupy myself with She seemed to handle it in stride, though, or least this was my impression of our brief bi weekly interactions I certainly don t remember there being any social awkwardness It probably helped, too, that she never made any apologies for her outbursts.So it was interesting for me, with Motherless Brooklyn, to experience life through the first person perspective of Lionel Essrog, a man with, not only Tourette s, but also its oft accompanying sidekick, obsessive compulsive disorder With the little foreknowledge I have of these syndromes, I m not able to say whether the novel faithfully represents them, but I d like to think it does Aside from the neuropsychiatric issues, Essrog also has a fascinating character history Inexplicably orphaned at a young age, he grows up in a tough Brooklyn neighborhood and is recruited by a low level Italian mobster whose eventual murder serves as the basis for the book s detective story plot Essrog s physical and verbal tics which are conspicuously present throughout the investigation do not impede the reader s enjoyment of the novel, as his internal dialogue remains unhindered by the disorder other than expressing an oncoming urge to shout or tap or straighten or poke , all of which I believe is consistent with the way Tourette s presents in its sufferers What s , Essrog s tics almost endear the reader to him I felt a kinship with the misunderstood, relatively lonely man who is driven by a misguided sense of loyalty in the search for his mentor s killer.Being at its core a mystery crime thriller, Motherless Brooklyn at times falls prey to some of the clich s of the genre, but Lethem succeeds in transcending this label by writing with, I don t know, heart or something Essorg s world, touched as it is by inner city dealings and by mob activity, is still somewhat insular and claustrophobic It s his relationship to the elements of this tiny world, however, that drive his motivations and make this book among theinteresting crime novels I ve read in a while