“identity continues to serve as the ground from which to work for change and to which to retreat for a sense of safety and belonging.”
During my years at the University I have read many books, each semester I would take Literature course. The books that captured me the most are those ones where the main character is “different” from those around. One of my favourite novels is “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Bronte, as the main character is a loner and has quite a complex personality. From then comes my “hobby” for analyzing people, why people react in a certain way in certain situations. What does control our actions, interaction with people? How d we know that we have to follow out instincts?
When I started to read “Motherless Brooklyn” by Jonathan Lethem honestly I did not like the novel. I was confused about who is who and doing what, and me not being an native English speaker was quite difficult to understand some paragraphs. Nevertheless, more I was reading more I was captivated by the novel, and especially by the main character. There are scenes in the book that I read a few times just to understand, and follow Lionel’s thread of thoughts.
Lionel Essrog, the main character, suffers from Tourette syndrome, who has a complex personality and a rich inner world. All over the novel we follow his changes and his tendencies to be understood, loved and accepted by the surrounding world. Still, the outer change will take place once the inner change occurs, but Lionel’s inner world is a continuous battle of Feelings of self-loathing, self-acceptance, insecurity, and fearfulness.
At the beginning of the novel we see a lonely Lionel, hiding behind the back of his co-workers and his boss as if he was still in the library of St. Vincent’s Home for boys: “Until rescued by Frank Minna I lived, as I said, in the library.” (37) At that moment of his life he could not imagine his life without Frank Minna, as he was the only person in Lionel’s life that would accept him the way he is. Frank even tried to make Lionel accept himself: “Minna and I had been in a joke-telling contest since I was thirteen years old, primarily because he liked to see me try to get through without ticcing.” (25) Frank Minna was Lionel’s hero, and a person he was worshiping and a fatherly figure for him.
Nevertheless, Frank Minna was killed and Lionel finds himself in the same situation as if he is 13 again, hiding in the library form the outside world, a world that he fears to face. Lionel is so absorbed by the negativity in his life that he does not observe that beneath that is the real him: erudite, kind and loving person, very observing and thoughtful, looking for a purpose in life and for a sense of belonging, and of course a devoted and loyal friend. These are the aspects of his personality that me as reader see in him, qualities that hind behind the tough men in black suit: “Minna Men wear suits. Minna Men drive cars… Minna Men stand behind Minna, hands in their pockets, looking menacing.” (91) Frank is the only person in Lionel’s life that accepts him the way he is, and Lionel does not have to act as someone he is not. Frank makes him feel not that lonely, and makes him believe that there is hope: “I’d begun discovering myself upon Minna’s jerking me out of the library and into the world, … My symptoms loved him.” (85) This is major, because Tourette’s is the main way Lionel defines and identifies himself, and Lionel loved Frank with all his being.
As I mentioned above one of characteristics Lionel possesses is that of being very observing, quality that he probably owns due to Tourette’s: “…a mark of my profound fear and boredom at St. Vincent’s and as well an early sign of my Tourettic compulsions for counting, processing, and inspection.” (37) In addition, being meticulous helped him to solve the mystery behind Frank’s death, and notice little things, but of great importance: “Even in the shitstorm such as I was at this moment, my syndrome knew that God was in the details… That was when I saw the nod. Gerard Minna nodded ever so slightly at the giant, and the giant nodded back. That was all it took.” (203) The answer to Lionel’s questions laid in one small nod, because, “Wheels within wheels was another of Minna’s phrases, used exclusively to sneer at our notions of coincidence or conspiracy.” (74) Everything is connected, the giant was involved in Frank’s death, and he nods to Gerald who is Frank’s brother that is all he needed to know.
Another aspect of Lionel’s character that is close to my soul is his tendency to be loved, and find “the one”, and that becomes more relevant after Frank’s death. Lionel does not have too much experience with women, and this makes him an easy victim of women’s traps. The scene in the novel that describes the conversation between Lionel and Julia is a good example of that. Julia uses this weakness of Lionel’s to obtain what she wants from him, even if Lionel realizes that she is playing with him, his manly instincts are stronger that rationality: ”I tried not to think of how she’d toyed with me, and how little I knew it meant.” (118) He desperately tries to hold on to those rarely signs of attention from women.
When Kimmery appeared in Lionel’s life I was somehow released that finally he found someone that understands him. Their conversations were so at ease, and Lionel even started to feel confortable about his tics when he was with Kimmery, they would even disappear at a certain time. The fact that his tics are not that evident is a sign of the calmness of his Tourettic brain:
“You do everything I do, “ she whispered into my mouth.
“I do not really need to, “ I said again. “Not if we are this close.” It was the truth.
I was never less ticcish that this…” (220)
Nevertheless, at this moment in the novel he was obsessed more with the thought of finding Frank’s killer, and accepting Kimmery in his life would be like a betrayed towards Frank, he could not let this happen: “She was an incompetent witness, beyond that a distraction. And I was an investigator…” (218) His mind was preoccupied with what happened that night, and the new feeling he discovered within himself, a mixture of guilt and vengeance: “Guilt I knew something about. Vengeance was another story entirely. I’d have to think about vengeance.” (285) If at the beginning of the novel Lionel feels guilt for not being able to protect Frank Minna, towards the end we see a stronger and confident Lionel that now wants vengeance for his dear friend.
Impressive is the comparison that Lionel makes between him and the V train. That train, like Lionel, wanders through the world searching for the light at the end of the tunnel, but everyone around pretends that he is not there. When Lionel makes that description it reminded me of something significant that Julia said: “He [Frank] said the reason you were useful to him was because you were so crazy everyone thought you were stupid.” (300) Even if Lionel does not realize it, his Tourette brain, and years spend in the library helped him to escape the feelings of guilt and vengeance that were keeping him trapped inside his inner world since Frank’s death. He could not relax, no sleep, no distractions: ”If I fell asleep the little world of my investigation would crumble. I needed to find my insomniac self, to agitate my problem solving brain… ” (247) Finding Frank’s killer took those feelings away, and brought peace in Lionel’s heart, and Lionel hoped to fill that emptiness with Kimmery’s love: “I suppose I still had a faint notion we could be together.” (308) Nevertheless, when Kimmery told him that she is moving in with her boyfriend, Lionel did not try to stop her, he just let her go. Probably because he was not ready yet to give to someone else that specific place in his heart.
I think that if ever a movie will be done on this novel it should focus on Lionel personality, because he is such a complex character that worth to be analyzed. At a certain point I was reading the novel, and I realized that what was keeping me captivated was his way of being, and I started to suffer with him and hope for the best with him. I came to realize that sometimes in life the small things make us fulfilled.
If I had to choose an actor to play his role I would choose Johnny Depp, because he had many roles in movies that are totally differ one from another. He is a combination of funny, and seriousness at the same time, he dares to be ridiculous, and let the impression of easy to be fooled around. But is just an impression.
Keating , A. L., (2008). Feminist Studies, Vol. 34, No. 1/2, The Chicana Studies Issue, pp. 64