You Don’t Love Me Yet by Jonathan Lethem seems like a sad combination of sexual themes from a Nicholson Baker novel with the enigmatic Los Angeles vibe often produced by Steve Erickson. Lethem simply misses the mark completely, filling the page with dead on arrival dialog, characters with no real substance or motivation and largely unnecessary sexual scenes.
You Don’t Love Me Yet is, to put it bluntly, bad.
It’s tough for me to say this since I like so much of Lethem’s work. I believe we’re seeing the growing pains of an author working toward a new genre. Most of Lethem’s prior work was based in science fiction or surrealism. Gun with Occasional Music, Amnesia Moon, Girl In Landscape and As She Climbed Across the Table are all very good reads.
Lethem then made a successful jump to more traditional literature with Motherless Brooklyn. But even Motherless Brooklyn borrowed from his detective genre past. Then came The Fortress of Solitude, a clear attempt at straight up literary fiction, which might have been good if an editor had made it about half as long. You Don’t Love Me Yet extends Lethem’s reach for literary fiction.
Even in his short story work, Lethem seems to hit the mark when dealing with surreal or other-worldly environments. No doubt he’s a talented writer, but he’s yet to take his talent and successfully apply it in a traditional literary fiction context.
You Don’t Love Me Yet follows the travails of an aspiring rock band in Los Angeles. The main character is Lucinda Hoekke, the bassist, who is painted as a flighty, mercurial woman with little idea of her own motivations. Perhaps she’s an alcoholic since nearly every scene seems to include drinking. I don’t know and, frankly, I didn’t care.
As a sterotypical musician, Lucinda needs some money and winds up working for an ex who is running a performance art piece about cataloging complaints via telephone. It’s here she conjures up a relationship with one of the callers, The Complainer, who turns her life and that of the band upside down. I won’t go into it because it’s all rather dreary and pointless.
Did I mention the sub-plot about the lead singer (on and off again boyfriend) who also works at the zoo and kidnaps a kangaroo that he feels is being mistreated? Yeah, it’s strange. I like strange but this just doesn’t go anywhere and the plot convergence is wholly unsatisfying.
You Don’t Love Me Yet reaches for what DeLillo or Erickson accomplish, turning ordinary oddities into meaningful insight. Avoid Lethem’s You Don’t Love Me Yet and pick up any of his early work instead.