You Don’t Love Me Yet (review: 3.5/5)

At the heart of You Don’t Love Me Yet is a band. Well, a band without a name that hasn’t had a gig yet. The story follows Lucinda, the bassist, as she navigates the post-break-up phase with Matthew, the lead singer. The whole book is about process, creation, becoming, limbo, liminal states. The book starts after Matthew and Lucinda split, before the band ever makes it big, and each, in a way, has a new beginning that we don’t get to see. We get to see the shifting in between.
The band finally gets a little bit of traction when Lucinda steals ideas for lyrics from the Complainer, a guy who calls the complaint line where Lucinda works. The Complainer later insists on joining the band, which makes everything awkward because Lucinda has been dating him… and no one else knows that’s where the lyrics came from. (And Matthew abducted a kangaroo from the zoo, by the way.) Denise is the drummer, appropriately, the one trying to hold things together.

In one scene, Bedwin, the chief lyricist and creative, confesses that he’s struggling:

“I’ve been trying. I’m having a sort of problem with language.”
“What do you mean?”
“With sentences… words.”
“We know what language is, Bedwin,” said Denise, not unkindly.
The three had turned to Bedwin now, half consciously, as though reaching out to support someone freshly released from a hospital, a man tapping down a ramp on crutches.

I love those analogies that Jonathan Lethem comes up with. Throughout the book there are these really wonderful, roundabout, visual ways of describing how people act or move or gesture. Here’s a vivid fashion description: “his white shirts were uniformly crisp and bright, as if pulled from a dispenser like tissues.” Another scene describes returning to an apartment after a long absence, with the answering machine blinking and “the slaw of mail beneath the door slot.”

One other great moment worthy of mention is at the band’s brief climax, their big moment. The whole 8 or 10 page sequence is really sharp. Lethem switches narrative voice, and the musicians all lose their proper names. They become “the singer,” “the drummer,” “the women,” “the men,” “the band.” And it’s during that concert when the band finally achieves its own name. But while the band blossoms, their relationships start to fray.

You can hear Lethem reading a portion from the beginning of his book on NPR. Lethem also has a interesting film option for this book, surrendering rights for derivative works after a short waiting period:

I’ll give away a free option on the film rights to my novel You Don’t Love Me Yet to a selected filmmaker. In return for the free option, I’ll ask two things:

1. I’d like the filmmaker to pay (something) for the purchase of the rights if they actually make a film: two percent of the budget, paid when the completed film gets a distribution deal. (I’ll wait until distribution to get paid so a filmmaker without many funds can work without having to spend their own money paying me).
2. The filmmaker and I will make an agreement to release all ancillary rights to the film (and its source material, the novel), five years after the film’s debut. In other words, after a waiting period during which those rights would still be restricted, anyone who cared to could make any number of other kinds of artwork based on the novel’s story and characters, or the film’s: a play, a television series, a comic book, a theme park ride, an opera – or even a sequel film or novel featuring the same characters. For that matter, they can remake the film with another script and new actors. In my agreement with the filmmaker, those ancillary rights will be launched into the public domain.

I’m curious to see what comes of it.

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