A brilliantly imagined riff on the classic detective tale: the
fifth high-energy novel in five years from the rapidly maturing
prodigy whose bizarre black-comic fiction includes, most recently,
Girl in Landscape (1998). Lethem's delirious yam about crime,
pursuit, and punishment, is narrated in a unique voice by its
embattled protagonist, Brooklynite (and orphan) Lionel Essrog,
a.k.a. "Freakshow." Lionel's moniker denotes the Tourette's
syndrome that twists his speech into weird aslant approximations
(his own name, for example, is apt to come out "Larval Pushbug" or
"Unreliable Chessgrub") and induces a tendency to compulsive
behavior ("reaching, tapping, grabbing and kissing urges") that
makes him useful putty in the hands of Frank Minna, an enterprising
hood who recruits teenagers (like Lionel) from St. Vincent's Home
for Boys, to move stolen goods and otherwise function as
apprentice-criminal "Minna Men." The daft plot - which disappears
for a while somewhere around the middle of the novell - Concerns
Minna's murder and Lionel's crazily courageous search for the
killer, an odyssey that brings him into increasingly dangerous
contact with two elderly Italian men ("The Clients") who have
previously employed the Minna Men and now pointedly advise Lionel
to abandon his quest; Frank's not-quite-bereaved widow Julia (a
tough-talking dame who seems to have dropped in from a Raymond
Chandler novel) at the Zendo, a dilapidated commune where
meditation and other Buddhist techniques are taught; a menacing
"Polish giant"; and, on Maine's Muscongus Island, a lobster pound
and Japanese restaurant that front for a sinister Oriental
conglomerate. The resulting complications are hilariously enhanced
by Lionel's "verbal Tourette's flowering" - a barrage of sheer
rhetorical invention that has tour de force written all over it;
it's an amazing stunt, and, just when you think the well is running
dry, Lethem keeps on topping himself. Another terrific
entertainment from Lethem, one of contemporary fiction's most
inspired risk-takers. Don't miss this one. (Kirkus Reviews)
A walk on the wild side of Brooklyn's criminal underclass with a
hero known as The Human Freakshow, a would-be detective also
answering to the name of Lionel Essrog. Essrog is a victim of
Tourette's Syndrome; hapless and veering out of control, he fights
himself and his disease.
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