You Don’t Love Me Yet, by Jonathan Lethem

You Don't Love Me Yet, by Jonathan Lethem

How interesting that author Bruce Wagner makes a fleeting cameo appearance in a party scene in Jonathan Lethem’s “You Don’t Love Me Yet”. Lethem’s slim novel about romantically adrift twenty-something Lucinda Hoekke, bass player in a fledgling alternative band, bears some resemblance to Wagner’s largely Los Angeles-based collection of novels and TV and movie screenplays. The title “You Don’t Love Me Yet” even echoes Wagner’s “I’m Losing You”, “I’ll Let You Go” and “Still Holding”, even though Lethem’s title doesn’t double as a typical telephone stock phrase/excuse. Actually, you would think he might have tried something like that, since Lucinda also answers telephones for a faux complaint line in an art installation.

Like Wagner’s stories, Lethem’s story is set in Los Angeles. His characters stumble (usually under the influence of one toxin or another) through the same decadent, emotionally parched terrain on the fringes of stardom, seeking and usually not finding professional, artistic or personal validation or fulfillment. While Wagner’s stories have Dickensian complexity, Lethem at least musters some Dickensian names – influential radio host Fancher Autumnbreast is a favourite – but isn’t able to match Wagner’s absorbing depth and insight, with one exception. Lethem’s characters are unsympathetic to a person, and their connections with each other don’t ring true, particularly Lucinda’s inexplicable and messy hookup with an enigmatic crafter of slogans that she meets when he starts calling the complaint line. The one exception is that Lethem captures vibrantly the alchemy of how individual musicians collaborate and cohere to make beautiful music.

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