I’ve had the paperback of this for a year probably, and just could never seem to get to it. So glad I finally did. I’d heard so much about the detective with Tourette’s syndrome, but really failed to understand just what Lethem does with it in this book. It’s so much more than an odd character trait (which is what I had thought). Really, it’s an extended metaphor. One to which Lethem returns again and again, to great effect.
And an homage to Chandler – as when Lionel Essrog gets knocked unconscious:
So many detectives have been knocked out and fallen into such strange swirling darknessses, such manifold surrealist voids (“something red wriggled like a germ under a microscope” – Philip Marlowe, The Big Sleep), and yet I have nothing to contribute to this painful tradition. Instead my falling and rising through obscurity was distinguished only by nothingness, by blankness, by lack and my resentment of it. How fond can you be of flavorless grains in a desert?
And The Big Sleep again:
Assertions are common to me, and they’re also common to detectives. (“About the only part of a California house you can’t put your foot through is the front door” – Marlowe, The Big Sleep.) And in detective stories things are always always, the detective casting his exhausted, caustic gaze over the corrupted permanence of everything and thrilling you with his sweetly savage generalizations…
Assertions and generalizations are, of course, a version of Tourette’s. A way of touching the world, handling it, covering it with confirming language.
And it turned out to be a very, very good detective story as well. And you know what’s rare? To finish a book with a howl of laughter. What a great last paragraph. I just loved the book. God knows what took me so long.
I see that Ed Norton is writing the screenplay for it and is set to direct. He’ll play Lionel too. Should be interesting.