If that were the extent of it, the book would be easy to dismiss. Luckily, Lethem has written, in the guise of a rock 'n' roll novel, a book that is in many ways a chronicle about the nature of artistic inspiration. The most interesting things in You Don't Love Me Yet are the passages where the troubled lives and various influences of its characters come together to make one memorable song. The talents of the band's near-catatonic composer combine with words heard on a complaint line and get projected by an anorexic singer who has a thing for kangaroos. The result might be genius. The song is bigger than the band: "It's a fixture in their lives, a given. They can't remember where it came from because the truth is that the song was there all along, waiting to be given the air, allowed to breathe."
Of course, we never really hear the song, and that might be why all rock 'n' roll novels end up leaving us a little cold. We need the music. But Jonathan Lethem has come as close as anyone to getting down the spirit, and making it available to those of us who might not be quite so cool.
Jonathan Lethem reads from You Don't Love Me Yet at the Ann Arbor District Library (downtown) on Thursday, April 5.
[Review published April 2007]
You might also like: