I don’t know what it’s like to have Tourette’s Syndrome, nor do I know the specifics of how it manifests in human behavior. As far as I know, neither does Jonathan Lethem. There is a troubling history of able bodied people using illnesses and non-ableness to become magical healers and special problem solvers.
So maybe this book is complete trash because Jonathan Lethem gets those aspects wrong. But from an ignorant perspective, I liked this one. And I liked it not because he had Tourette’s but because it showed how someone with Tourette’s might navigate a difficult situation such as the book presents.
Again, on the surface, it’s the kind of book that would make me roll my eyes: a take on the hardboiled mystery genre with a twist. I can definitely see the “What if Philip Marlowe blurted out curse words randomly?” pitch from some jerkwad publisher.
But it gets the hardboiled aspect down really well. And I think it has a good handle on Lionel’s character, whose behavior felt genuine in that he is a human being affected by Tourettes but still trying to live his life in spite of others who define him by his behavior.
And it is also one of the better New York City novels I’ve read. It really makes the place come alive, as opposed to treating it like a theme park or some bleak hellscape that the protagonist no longer understand. Lethem is adept and learning which cliches to live in and which to avoid.
This is likely the best possible version of this kind of book, as opposed to someone who is not as empathetic or skilled.
PS: Bonus points for Lethem acknowledging Ross Macdonald in this one. By my count, that’s three authors who have had characters cite him in their works (Lethem, Con Lehane, Steph Cha).