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Suggested Summer Reading: Lethem's Latest?

J. Charreaux suggests that if you have to read anything this summer, it might as well be , You Don't Love Me Yet, by certified genius, Jonathan Lethem.

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by J. Charreaux, for outsideleft.com
originally published: July, 2007
Nick Hornby's milquetoast overestimation of record store clerks' rich inner lives rubs me the wrong way.

You Don't Love Me Yet
Jonathan Lethem
(Doubleday)

Does a sprayed-on tan work as a sunblock? Can I apply sunscreen over it without smudging? ''Sunset Tan'' has yet to answer these questions. As I drink Vitamin Water Diet Coke, washing down Milk Thistle to refurbish my liver to the sound of Amy Winehouse, can I really add Jonathan Lethem's You Don't Love Me Yet to the oppressive list of Summer Reading Recommendations? If you don't mind getting cremes and tropical drinks on a $25 novella, the short answer is, ''yes.''

Nick Hornby's milquetoast overestimation of record store clerks' rich inner lives rubs me the wrong way. Lethem's Silver Lake rock band milieu goes down a bit easier. And not a season too soon. This book comes after the pitiless attack on America's need to feel that affordable-college-for-all is the very foundation of our class-free Meritocracy (cf the hand wringing over the record-breaking Virginia Tech massacre, the Imus remarks about the Rutgers athletes and the Duke Lacrosse scandal). Lethem is our poster boy of surviving on his own creative capital. Born near Brooklyn, he attended Bennington College on an art scholarship, won the MacArthur Foundation's genius grant and has written a string of acclaimed, genre-bending novels and short story collections. His ruminations in Harpers about the nature of plagiarism and originality, along with his own conception of pseudo-Open Source licensing of the movie rights to his work make their way into You Don't Love Me Yet as the pressure to grab an audience with a great, original song impinges upon his central characters.

covershotSurprisingly unscathing and even compassionate, You Don't Love Me Yet is a love story more than a pre-coming of age tale. It features composite and actual Los Angeles details like the rotating Foot Clinic sign on Sunset Boulevard and Spaceland. One character's a Cal Arts graduate who now lectures there and employs his students as interns in his gallery project. One of his former girlfriends, our narrator, works there too. Another band member works at the zoo. The glasses-wearing songwriter doesn't work. He's a film school grad who watches the same expressionist film all day on video while the female drummer keeps him nourished, fixing him baloney sandwiches and bringing him cans of beer. She works at an adult accessories shop. With no Day of the Locust buildup-to-impending-doom, the novel leaves us clinging to the idea that a few well-placed words and some creative guitar figures may be enough to hang the hope of a life on.

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