You Don't Love Me Yet

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Thursday, June 14, 2007
by Jonathan Lethem
I enjoyed reading You Don't Love Me Yet, but wasn't necessarily sorry when it was over. I had fun, but... it's sort of like overindulging on sugar and caffeine (or stimulants of your choosing) then getting on a carnival ride that defies gravity upsidedown and backwards at 700 mph. It's really fun until suddenly you're sunburnt and spent, puking in a garbage can. Which isn't to say I wouldn't do it again. I think some of that reaction is by design though -- this is the novel for which Lethem gave away a free film option to a selected filmmaker (people sent him treatments and he chose among them), on the condition that all ancillary rights would be released five years after the film's debut. (I think it's a really exciting experiment -- read the link for more details.) Anyway, these are characters and situations he's said he's willing to see other people take hold of in some way: write the songs, make the movie, so maybe it's not such a stretch to think they're not as near, dear and personal to him as some of his earlier works. Plus, it's a farce which has a certain built-in remove. I don't love these people (YET! ha -- he's sneaky), but I certainly found them interesting if sometimes horrifying yet hilarious. There's also kangaroo, which should please old-school Lethem fans.

The story is told from the point of view of Lucinda, who in addition to being bassist in a band also works on the Complaint Line -- essentially a performance art piece run by a man she went to college with (and used to date). The city of Los Angeles is covered with stickers that urge complainers to call a number to be heard. She and other temps are directed to take these calls dispassionately "like a nurse." There is one complainer in particular (the Complainer, later Carl) who captures her imagination with his complaints which range from Monster Eyes to Nostalgia Vu to the difficulty of keeping the little Buddhist that lives within us all happy. Quality complaints. A connection is formed. They become involved in a romantic relationship and things start spinning out of control in surprising yet seemingly inevitable ways.

Now here's a quote that doesn't really have much to do with any of the above, but it does illustrate so beautifully the idea of a modern oracle. This is something I relate to as I find myself consulting (especially when I'm feeling mildly to moderately out of control) similar oracles all the time: "Through her kitchen's rear window on Reservoir Street Lucinda could see, over the rooftop of a tire shop and against a background of shaggy palms, the high rotating sign of the Foot Clinic. It depicted a cartoon foot with features and tiny limbs: one side a happy, cared-for foot, beaming and confident, white-gloved hands jubilantly upraised, the other side a moaning, broken-down foot, neglected and weary, grasping at crutches and with its big toe wreathed in bandages. Lucinda's view took in a three-quarters slice of the sign as it turned in its vigil over Sunset Boulevard: happy foot and sad foot suspended in a dialogue forever. The two images presented not so much a one-or-the-other choice as an eternal marriage of opposites, the emblem of some ancient foot-based philosophical system. This was Lucinda's oracle: one glance to pick out the sad or happy foot, and a coin was flipped, to legislate any decision she'd delegated to the foot god."
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