Thurday Reviews: The Chaos We Know, Motherless Brooklyn

The Chaos We Know

by Keith Rawson

It’s been said over and over again, but I’ll say it again here. Keith Rawson’s work is not for the faint of heart. Not the story of a landlord’s hatchet man sent to evict a dead hoarder. Not the story of a man with a baseball bat asked to solve a problem for a desert commune. Not even the story of a man who offers to baby sit his boss’s self-centered little brat.

This collection from one of noir’s newer voices comes to us via Snub Nose Press, which means the stories are going to be different. Coming from Keith Rawson,  who also has a hand in Spinetingler these days, it’s going to be brutally honest.

Or honestly brutal. There’s a lot of both in this.

Motherless Brooklyn

by Jonathan Lethem

Lionel Essrog is a private detective with a twist. He suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome despite doing leg work for his boss, Frank Minna. The Minna Men are orphans Frank picked out himself from an orphanage. They’ve devoted their lives to Frank, doing his work through an agency fronted by a car service. None of them have been out of New York City. So when Frank is murdered after a stakeout, Lionel finds himself the only one following the threads.

As much as this is a detective story, it’s also a portrait of the mind of a Tourette’s Syndrome sufferer. Lionel’s mind is a war zone, where the verbal and physical tics try to overwhelm him and frequently do. But then it’s also about five men who are really still boys who have lost their surrogate father. One begins acting strange, another ends up in jail, and a third sort of behaves as though he’s too cool for all this.

Lionel finds himself alone in all this, dodging two mysterious mobsters known as “The Clients,” a giant killer who may have murdered Frank, and a Zen master Lionel has heard but never seen.

It’s a weird take on the detective novel, and some of the layers and nuances really didn’t strike me until a couple of days after I finished the book. And Lethem’s Brooklyn is as big a character as the Minna Men. His Brooklyn is as familiar as Charlie Stella’s Brooklyn or Reed Coleman’s, yet very, very different. Most of the Men’s lives are confined to their orphanage early on, and one section of Brooklyn through most of the book when they aren’t making runs into Manhattan.