Book cover

Brooklyn Crime Novel
by Jonathan Lethem
Published: 2023
Read from: 22 Jan to 05 Feb
My rating: 🌟 🌟 🌟

I’m at a bit of a loss what to make of Jonathan Lethem’s latest. It’s definitely very clever. Maybe it does also capture growing up in Brooklyn during the earliest days of regeneration and eventual escape. Or not. I certainly enjoyed it one little chapter at a time. Overall, though, it just did not add up to anything notable, for me.

Perhaps you had to be there.

Perhaps the problem is that I have not internalised the geography, with its undeen boundaries visible only to those who, like the sheep that used to graze our orchard, have once or twice touched the electric netting when the charger is on. I’m not saying it needed a map, which in any case would have been horrible on a Kindle. It did need a bit more familiarity than I have.

Perhaps the problem is that I never had to take part in what Lethem calls the dance, the everyday crime that permeates the book. Every white kid apparently recognises an invitation to the dance; understands how to avoid it, but doesn’t; knows the steps; and is prepared at all times with inconsequential mugging money in a pocket and the rest in a sock or shoe. Presumably the Black kids know there’s more to be had and are content to milk the mugging money rather than attempt the bigger heist.

Well, I say never, but there was that one time — in NYC as it happens — and at around the time Brooklyn started to gentrify. It was my first visit, middle of the afternoon, and on a cross street somewhere in Greenwich Village. A lone Black kid asked to see my watch. But I didn’t know the dance, so I just said four fifteen or something and kept walking. Nothing more happened. Anticlimactic. A bit like Brooklyn Crime Novel.

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