I would give this novel more than five stars if I could! I loved it!
There’s a compelling whodunit at the center of MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN, and a sense of humor both broad and sly, but in many ways the novel is about language and that’s where author Jonathan Lethem shines. MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN is an exquisitely written book, with prose that places us so deeply inside the mind of our Tourettic hero Lionel Essrog that his verbal and physical tics, which might feel so alarming and random if encountered in real life, begin to make a kind of sense to us here. The characters are wonderfully and indelibly drawn: Lionel, of course, but also his mentor and father figure Frank Minna; the bitter and disappointed Julia Minna; the two old gangsters, Matricardi and Rockaforte (“Garden State Bricko and Stuckface”), who might talk like a parody of Marlon Brando in THE GODFATHER but are not to be underestimated; and the utterly oblivious Kimmery.
It would be a great novel just on its own, but the fact that I lived for twenty years in the very Brooklyn neighborhood in which it takes place — including several years on Bergen Street, where the fictional L&L Car Service has its office — added an extra layer of enjoyment for me. I recognized many of the landmarks Lethem utilizes to ground the story with a sense of place: Ziad’s, here called Zeod’s, the deli on Smith Street that made the best sandwiches in the neighborhood; the Brooklyn Inn, here called the Boerum Hill Inn, which was my watering hole for many years (and the neighborhood’s only English-speaking bar for a time); the Promenade and DeGraw Street (where I also lived for several years), and of course those old Garden State Brickface and Stucco commercials. More than a novel for me, MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN doubled as an enjoyable walk down memory lane.