YOU DON'T LOVE ME YET
by Jonathan Lethem
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Jonathan Lethem's latest novel, You Don't Love Me Yet, opens with Lucinda Hoekke breaking up with Matthew, the guitarist in their on-the-brink-of-anonymity band. That Lucinda and Matthew have broken up numerous times before, doesn't mean anything, because this time they both really mean it, for their own good and the good of their band.
In fact, the break-up is only one part of Lucinda's general change in her life. Shortly after she ends her romance with Matthew, she quits her job as a coffee barista and takes a job with another former boyfriend, Falmouth Strand. Strand has an idea for a help line which borders on performance art. After plastering Los Angeles with stickers inviting people to call with complaints, he needs people to answer phones and listen to complaints. There's no real purpose to the activity, but it offers Lucinda a change and a paycheck.
The change turns out to be more than she bargains for when one of the habitual callers declares he will only lodge his complaints with her. In this way, Lucinda finds herself intrigued by the anonymous complainer and she begins to push for him to contact her outside of work, or even set up a meeting. The entire time, Lucinda's band continues to practice and await new songs from their songwriter, Bedwin Greenish.
Just as Lucinda's life appears directionless, so, too, does You Don't Love Me Yet, until Lucinda and the Complainer, as she thinks of him, finally do manage to connect without the separation of the telephone. At this point, even if Lucinda's life doesn't really gain a direction, the novel begins to explore the role of a muse in the creative process. In You Don't Love Me Yet, however, the role of a muse appears to mandate anonymity. In fact the main stipulation the Complainer has for Lucinda is that they create a secret from everyone else.
The band's exposure to their muse happens to coincide with another of Strand's performance art ideas, a party in which everyone dances to their own music on headsets while a band plays too quietly to be heard. Naturally, Strand offers the role of the band which can't be heard to Lucinda's still nameless band. When the night for the event comes, a perfect storm occurs, catapulting the band into a transcendent role that none of the members are prepared for.
While the characters, moving through life without any plan and real goals are not the most sympathetic, Lethem manages to create relationships for them that cause a level of sympathy for them in his readers. Lacking some of the oddity of Lethem's earlier protagonists like Dylan Ebdus or Lionel Essrog, Lucinda Hoekke comes across as a more realistic, if not as likable, person.
You Don't Love Me Yet is something of a departure for Lethem, who has generally included some element of the fantastic in his novels, although he has shown a progression towards a purely realistic novel over the years. Even without the introduction of anything outside the laws of science, however, You Don't Love Me Yet does require the reader to suspend their sense of disbelief, notably in Matthew's vigilantism with regard to a kangaroo named Shelf, which begs the question, what does Lethem have about kangaroos, which also figured prominently in his debut novel, Gun, With Occasional Music.
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