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Motherless Brooklyn
JONATHAN LETHEM

Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem
310 reviews (1999) (336p)
National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction Winner
ALA Notable Books - Fiction Finalist

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Book Description
From America's most inventive novelist, Jonathan Lethem, comes this compelling and compulsive riff on the classic detective novel.

Lionel Essrog is Brooklyn's very own self-appointed Human Freakshow, an orphan whose Tourettic impulses drive him to bark, count, and rip apart our language in startling and original ways. Together with three veterans of the St. Vincent's Home for Boys, he works for small-time mobster Frank Minna's limo service cum detective agency. Life without Frank Minna, the charismatic King of Brooklyn, would be unimaginable, so who cares if the tasks he sets them are, well, not exactly legal. But when Frank is fatally stabbed, one of Lionel's colleagues lands in jail, the other two vie for his position, and the victim's widow skips town. Lionel's world is suddenly topsy-turvy, and this outcast who has trouble even conversing attempts to untangle the threads of the case while trying to keep the words straight in his head. Motherless Brooklyn is a brilliantly original homage to the classic detective novel by one of the most acclaimed writers of his generation.


Amazon.com Review
Pop quiz. Please complete the following sentence: "There are days when I get up in the morning and stagger into the bathroom and begin running water and then I look up and I don't even recognize my own _." If you answered face, then your name is obviously not Jonathan Lethem. Instead of taking the easy out, the genre-busting novelist concludes this by-the-numbers string of words with toothbrush in the mirror.

This brilliant sentence and a lot of other really excellent ones compose Lethem's engaging fifth novel, Motherless Brooklyn. Lionel Essrog, a detective suffering from Tourette's syndrome, spins the narrative as he tracks down the killer of his boss, Frank Minna. Minna enlisted Lionel and his friends when they were teenagers living at Saint Vincent's Home for Boys, ostensibly to perform odd jobs (we're talking very odd) and over the years trained them to become a team of investigators. The Minna men face their most daunting case when they find their mentor in a Dumpster bleeding from stab wounds delivered by an assailant whose identity he refuses to reveal--even while he's dying on the way to the hospital.

Detectives? Brooklyn? Is this the same Lethem who danced the postapocalypso in Amnesia Moon? Incredibly, yes, and rarely has such a departure been pulled off with this much aplomb. As in the "toothbrush" passage above, Lethem sets himself up with the imposing task of making tired conventions new. Brooklyn accents? Fuggetaboutit. Lethem's dialogue is as light on its feet as a prize fighter. Lionel's Tourette's could have been an easy joke, but Lethem probes so convincingly into the disorder that you feel simultaneously rattled, sympathetic, and irritated by the guy. Sure, the story is a mystery, but Motherless Brooklyn could be about flower arranging, for all we care. What counts is Lionel's tic-ridden take on a world full of surprises, propelling this fiction forward at edgy, breakneck speed. --Ryan Boudinot


Other Award Winning Books by Jonathan Lethem
A Gambler's Anatomy by Jonathan Lethem
47 reviews (2016) (304p) (NYT100) () () ()
Read Reviews | Visit this book's Amazon.com page
Dissident Gardens by Jonathan Lethem
157 reviews (2013) (384p) (NYT100)
Read Reviews | Visit this book's Amazon.com page
THE ECSTASY OF INFLUENCE: Nonfictions, Etc by Jonathan Lethem
10 reviews (2011) (p) (NYT100)
Read Reviews | Visit this book's Amazon.com page
Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem
96 reviews (2009) (528p) (NYTimes)
Read Reviews | Visit this book's Amazon.com page
The Disappointment Artist by Jonathan Lethem
16 reviews (2005) (160p) (Amazon)
Read Reviews | Visit this book's Amazon.com page
The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem
151 reviews (2003) (528p) (NYTimes) (TIME) (Amazon) (ALA)
Read Reviews | Visit this book's Amazon.com page

Jonathan Lethem Award Stats
Major Prize* Nominations 3  
Unique Books Nominated for a Major Prize* 2  
Pulitzer Prize Wins 0  
Pulitzer Prize Nominations 0  
National Book Critics Circle Award Wins 1 Motherless Brooklyn ·  
National Book Critics Circle Award Nominations 1 Motherless Brooklyn ·  
National Book Award Wins 0  
National Book Award Nominations 0  
Man Booker Prize Wins 0  
Man Booker Prize Nominations 0  
PEN/Faulkner Award Wins 0  
PEN/Faulkner Award Nominations 0  

*Major Prize = Pulitzer Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award, National Book Award, Man Booker Prize, and PEN/Faulkner Award

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