Aspect: The secondary characters
In the Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem, the author does not keep the readers in the dark whenever the main protagonist, Lionel Essrog, is involved. Let it be about his background, its Tourette’s, his social life… After reading the book, all readers should know Lionel, like the back of their hand”. Lethem’s book is well explained how Lionel goes through in his life and childhood life. While I’m at it, I heard that there will be a film coming up based on this famous book, and I believe that every aspect such as the setting, the tone and many more should be well shown in the film adaptation as it is in the Motherless Brooklyn. But the secondary characters are the prime key for a successful film and should be well and concretely shown in the film because let’s be honest to each other, people around you are the major reason why you act the way you are right now and your character is build up based on your entourage. “Supporting characters can shine light on the main character’s hidden humanity, offering hope or a dramatic turnaround where none seems possible. They can remind us why the journey of the main character is important, especially when that character is most troubled or lost.”, said Lisa Rosenberg on her blog.
As secondary characters we can find Frank Minna, Tony Vermonte, Gilbert Coney, Danny Fantl, Julia and Kimmery.
Let’s start with Frank Minna, yes I know it was predictable. Anyways, aside from Lionel, Minna is by far the second most important character in the story because his death was the reason why there is a plot in the first place. Also it is because Minna was to Lionel; a mentor, a father and a role model. With all the Minna-isms that Lionel incorporated into his ways of speaking and thinking, it proves how much Minna meant to him. Such as when Lionel was questioned by Tony:
“Who’s Ullman?” said Tony. “I never met the guy” That was a Minna-ism: never met the guy. Or maybe: “… collar up against the cold like Minna, unshaven like Minna now, too, shoes clacking sidewalk…”(226)
Lionel followed Minna since he was a child and studied him very well in numerous ways like how to flirt with woman: “Minna had a gift, and we studied his moves, filed them…”(73). Both, Lionel and Minna had built up a bond which was really different between other Minna man and Minna, they always told jokes to each other and Minna only gave nicknames to Lionel like: Freakshow or Tugboat.
There is also Gilbert Coney, a good friend of Lionel. Actually, Coney is the closest friend Lionel has within the Minna Man. He is also one of the rarest character to actually identify him as a victim of Tourette’s and has some sympathy towards it compared to a large number of other characters in the novel. When both of them were in the hospital waiting in the hall room because of the incident at the Zendo, Gilbert defends Lionel from the Jamaican guard because of Lionel’s compulsive tics: “He’s got a condition, so lay off.” (32) Other than that Lionel also says that Gilbert is tolerant of him (41), he doesn’t get annoyed or something. Thanks to Gilbert, Lionel build up his confidence when the two of them snuck up into the penguin scene. In their younger days, Gilbert forced Lionel to get in the scene which led Lionel touch the penguins: “…Once I’d touched the first penguin I had no choice. Somehow this led to a series of confidences.” (42)
As for Tony Vermonte, he is the harshest member of Minna man towards Lionel, as an example: “Tony told me to shut the fuck up, but his heart wasn’t in it, not this day…” (39) It tells you already that Tony says cruel stuffs with his heart in it. Another one would be the dispute between the two, when Minna called Tony “Dickweed” (76). Since we all know Lionel, it was the first time he hears this word and one of the popular tics that he usually says throughout the story. Also, his Tourette’s brain is unknown to how it functions and what stimulates to say words that he says except the fact that they are usually offensive words. Anyhow, after the dispute between Minna and Tony, Lionel starts saying compulsive tics which triggers Tony’s anger. Knowing that Lionel can not control his tics, Tony tries to relieve his anger by painting dog shit on Lionel’s face (78) but he actually feels disgusted and can’t speak so he got back with Danny and Gilbert up ahead. Lionel and Tony don’t quite get along with each other and Lionel does not trust him either after Minna’s death but realizing his actions and after finding that Tony was actually innocent except knowing what was going on in the story, he felt guilty for Tony’s death. “I’d imagined Frank and Tony were mine to protect…” (311)
We can also include Julia and Kimmery, the only female characters in the novel, they both triggered Lionel’s mind in having sexual thoughts. The first scene between Julia and Lionel (105), Juila was literally toying with Lionel such as saying: “I want you to like me, Lionel.” And when Lionel fell for what she said, she denied what she said and added: “You’re too strange Lionel. Much too strange. I mean take a look in the mirror.” Honestly, it was an awkward scene between those two, not to mention that Lionel having to talk with a female character for the first time. He kind of acted childish and unexperienced around Julia, which we could we uncovered a side of Lionel within this scene. Regarding Kimmery, Lionel never had that of a close relationship with a woman, especially to a point in having an intercourse. Again, he still was unexperienced but the readers would deduce that the scene in the apartment showed that there was a spark between the two. Later on, it is revealed to us that Kimmery got back with her ex and abandoned Lionel. (308) Except from the explicit scene, there was a couple of times when Lionel called Kimmery and yet she whether ignored it or gave excuses that she can’t answer at the moment. We although learned that Lionel being around those two females, Lionel ticced less like with Julia moving Lionel’s hand, he says: “Sexual excitement stills my Tourette’s” (103) and with Kimmery: “I was never less ticcish than this…” (220)
By summing all up, every single characters named previously were all part of Lionel’s development throughout the story. We learned Lionel because of those “secondary characters”, they have brought to revelation a good part of Lionel’s characteristics. What makes the book interesting is truly because of Lionel’s interaction with people around him. Loyalty is shown by Lionel towards Minna, courage because of Gilbert, guilt because of Tony and Minna’s death and unexperienced and childishness about woman because Julia and Kimmery. These things reveal us who Lionel really is and it is an important aspect to emphasizes in the film adaptation if we wish to taste the greatness of the film as the book itself.
Lethem Jonathan, Motherless Brooklyn, Vintage Books, 1999