A Jonathan Lethem novel about the rock scene is rather like a Norman Mailer novel about Jesus Christ. We kind of knew it would happen eventually.
In this one, set in contemporary L.A., Lucinda Hoekke, nearing 30, still drifting lazily through life, summons her boyfriend, zoo employee and sex magnet Matthew Plangent, to a break-up meeting at a museum where the non-art (a large white enclosure) of Lucinda’s former lover Falmouth Strand is displayed. Working as a “complaint receptionist” for Falmouth (a New Age control freak entrepreneur who offers such service, seemingly just for the hell of it), Lucinda finds herself attracted to the “brilliant complainer” who arouses her recently diminished sex drive, and seeks him out—when not rehearsing with the (unnamed) band that features Matthew as vocalist, Lucinda on bass, confrontational Denise Urban (who sells sex toys at a “Masturbation Boutique”) on drums and gentle Jesus-like eccentric Bedwin Greenish, who plays lead guitar and writes the songs. There’s a minimal plot, in which Lucinda and the complainer (burly, aging Carl Vogelsong) get it on exhaustively, and the band—when not considering and discarding monikers like “Famous Vomit Ferry or Long-Term Pity Houseguest”—catches a break when invited to perform on midnight deejay Fancher Autumnbreast’s radio show “The Dreaming Jaw,” only to be sabotaged by the complainer, whose random musings have been appropriated by Lucinda and turned into song. After much air-headed conversation about “universal principles and…rock trivia,” and the return to the zoo of the morose kangaroo Matthew has held “hostage,” it all spins to a very downbeat (and not very good) bittersweet ending. Lucinda finds herself approximately where she started, and realizes she’s okay with it.
Lethem in a minor key. Not without its ridiculous charms, but nothing to sing about either.