Jonthan Lethem: You Don't Know Me Yet

Categories: Books
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For his sixth novel, Jonathan Lethem (Fortress of Solitude, Motherless Brooklyn) travels from his native Brooklyn turf to the lighter side of Los Angeles. In You Don't Love Me Yet, Lethem tells a tale of ridiculous romance, binge drinking, and debatable plagiarism. His protagonist, Lucinda Hoekke, is a bass player in an unnamed band suffering a creative slump. To make ends meet, she takes part in an art installation, answering phones for a complaint line in a staged office setting. There, she falls for "the complainer"—an anonymous caller whose witty phrases and frank sexual retellings work their way into her band's lyrics.

City Pages: So many of your novels take place in Brooklyn. What made you want to write about L.A.?

Jonathan Lethem: I see this novel as a return to a daffier tone. I spent almost a decade of my writing life dwelling on the part of Brooklyn that I came from. I think it was really good to surprise myself and recover the sense of license to do anything I please. There's something very seductive and gratifying in the way that I have been acclaimed as "Mr. Brooklyn." But it's also very dangerous for a writer to let any kind of mantle be put around their shoulders. So this is sort of my way of reclaiming my amateurishness. To write about a place I didn't really know about, you could say I was intentionally disarming myself.

CP: Did you have any bands in mind while writing the novel?

JL: There were loads I was thinking of, the bands that I loved that were a little less famous in the world than they were in my mind. Some went on to have little careers and others kind of vanished without a trace—the Feelies, the DBs, Big Dipper. I was also trying to evoke the feeling of bands that not only have gender-mixed lineups, but also have a history of romantic entanglements within the band, like Fleetwood Mac and the White Stripes. There's something very mysterious and evocative about bands like that.

CP: What's the strangest job you ever took to make ends meet?

JL: Some of the small bookshops I worked in were pretty eccentric. There was one I worked in that was a used bookstore and puppet theater. There were all these shelves that would convert into seating and they would suddenly erect a little stage and put on puppet shows for kids.

CP: If there was a real complaint line, what would you call in to talk about?

JL: Oh, I've got no complaints. I am a happy camper. I guess airport food is as bad as it ever was.

CP: "The complainer" writes bumper-sticker slogans for a living. Is there a saying that you subscribe to?

JL: I am very fond of one of Carl's that was actually made up by one of my friends: "All thinking is wishful."


Jonathan Lethem reads Monday April 2 at the University of Minnesota Bookstore. Free. 7:00 p.m. 300 Washington Ave SE (Coffman Memorial Union), Minneapolis; 612.625.6000


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