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You Don't Love Me Yet? No.

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Lucinda Hoekke is 29 and the bassist for a band in Los Angeles (circa sometime before the invention of the cell phone). But the band doesn't have a name, it's never played in public, and Lucinda doesn't know what to do. So what she does is answer the phone and listen to numbskull complaints by anonymous callers in an empty art gallery for her insufferable friend, the gallery's owner and the artist behind a performance-art piece called "The Complaint Line" -- a guy named Falmouth. But "Falmouth" isn't the worst of it.

Lucinda's on-and-off boyfriend, the band's lead singer, is named Matthew Plangent. The band's drummer is Denise Urban, who, when she isn't drumming, works in a sex shop, so at least she has a job. The band's guitarist and songwriter (though these days he's "blocked") is Bedwin Greenish, who spends his time not writing or working but searching Fritz Lang's Human Desire for what he calls "text fragments."

Off to the side is Jules Harvey, an armpit-sniffing promoter who gets the band a gig (another art project of Falmouth's, this one mixing inaudible rock music and audience confusion), which wins the band a spot on Fancher Autumnbreast's influential radio show, The Dreaming Jaw. But the band ruins the live broadcast after Carl Vogelsong, a middle-age loser and lover of Lucinda's, butts in and balks at having his inane pronouncements co-opted as lyrics by Lucinda, which do indeed unblock Bedwin and win the band a half-minute of alt-rock fame. Meanwhile, Matthew is harboring a depressed kangaroo named Shelf in his bathtub, and, in a later meanwhile, Matthew's zookeeper boss, Dr. Marian Rorschach, motorcycles with her brand-new boyfriend, Vogelsong, who started this whole sorry story as the star complainer on "The Complaint Line."

People, this is lame. But it's by Jonathan Lethem (author of the novels The Fortress of Solitude and Motherless Brooklyn), and it's called You Don't Love Me Yet, which is called a "delightfully comic romp" by Lethem's publisher, Doubleday, and it's good of Doubleday to let us know. Otherwise, Lethem's pitch-unperfect depiction of low-life alt-rockers might have us thinking he doesn't have a clue what he's writing about. And as for the writing ...

On an L.A. street "sporadic pedestrians blobbed past on their shadow forms." In other scenes, a Polaroid camera "chugged out its product," and Lucinda, grocery basket in hand, "hoisted the freight to her hip." And later, Lucinda, "her teeth bared and eyeballs bugged," breaks into Matthew's apartment "in commitment" to her "idiot foray," which leaves Matthew's eyeballs "turtled in bafflement." And the morning after the "foray"? Lucinda "cinched open her crumb-gummed lids." And as for the band, once it gets its act together? It's "got something, and some of the something they've got is the allure of an enclave at odds within itself and yet impenetrable to others, its members exchanging small gestures of disaffection within their troupe that makes others crave to be included in the fond dissension."

Lethem, who in 2005 won one of those MacArthur "genius" grants, in You Don't Love Me Yet engages in not only the unfunny and tone-deaf but in the subliterate as well.

No Joke

He is professor of English and American Literature at Harvard. His specialty is American cultural history. He regularly writes for The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books. And he won a Pultizer Prize for The Metaphysical Club (2001), a quadruple (and highly readable) biography of late-19th-century thinkers Oliver Wendell Holmes, William James, Charles Sanders Peirce, and John Dewey. He is Louis Menand. Hear what he has to say when Menand delivers a talk on "Art and Ideas in the Cold War" at the University of Memphis on Thursday, April 5th. The lecture begins at 6:30 p.m. in the Panhellenic Building (384 Patterson). A reception begins at 6 p.m.; a booksigning follows the talk.

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