This is one of those kind of white whale novels of mine for a long time. I’ve only read one other Jonathan Lethem novel, and I was thoroughly disappointed in it, especially given how much I thought I would like it. That novel was Fortress of Solitude and while I’m not the world’s biggest comics fan, I did grow up with all kinds of nerdy things as a big part of my life (I generally seem pretty straight-laced/normcore presenting, but then there’s some deep nerdiness in my tastes). So I avoided this one for a long time. But it was available on audiobook from my library so it seemed the right time.
For those unfamiliar, our narrator is Lionel Essrog, a man in his early 20s or so (I think –it’s hard to pinpoint) who grow up as a kind of orphan in Brooklyn. His world is colored through a love for language that involves him making repeatedly and playful spoonerisms (transpositions of words) while also dealing with Tourette’s and some version of OCD. He works as a kind of factotum/low-level henchman for a local small crimes/detective in Brooklyn. When his mentor is killed Lionel takes it upon himself to solve the crime.
While I feel like this novel is probably brilliant in so many ways, I don’t think I actually enjoyed reading it all that much. I feel like there’s a lot of payoff to the central conceit and voice, but there’s also a lot of searching for a point that the novel struggles to find.