Follow TV Tropes

Following

Literature / Motherless Brooklyn

Go To

https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/motherless_brooklyn_9767.jpg
Advertisement:

Motherless Brooklyn is a postmodern novel by Jonathan Lethem which tells the tale of Lionel Essrog, low level gangster/detective extraordinare, afflicted with Tourette's Syndrome. Essrog works for Brooklyn Gangster Frank Minna, as one of his "Minna Men", along with three boys he grew up with in a Brooklyn orphanage. When Frank is killed in a mysterious meeting gone wrong, Lionel takes it upon himself to solve the crime. Taking his cues from hardboiled detective films, Lionel finds himself making enemies of elderly mobsters and a zen Buddhist center. The mystery deepens when Lionel becomes involved with Minna's ex-wife as well as Buddist practitioner Kimmery, and learns more about his old boss and father figure than he ever thought possible.

It's a sweet, exciting, kind of sad story that won the 1999 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2000 Gold Dagger award for Crime fiction. A loose film adaptation, reimagined with a 1950s setting and directed, written by and starring Edward Norton as Lionel, spent 20 years going through Development Hell, but was eventually made and released on November 1st, 2019.

Advertisement:


This novel provides examples of:

  • A Father to His Men: Frank Minna to Lionel, the rest of the Minna Men, at least at the start of their relationship.
  • Aloof Big Brother: Girard to Frank. Tony and Danny to Lionel and Gilbert.
  • The Don: Matricardi and Rockaforte. The two old men that Frank answers to.
  • The Family for the Whole Family: Frank certainly thinks of his Men, or at least Lionel, in this manner, not even allowing them to carry guns due to their incompetence.
  • Gayngster: Two mob bosses are caught unaware holding hands, quickly withdrawn once they know they're being watched.
  • Genre Savvy: Everyone. They all act as if they are part of a detective novel which... they are.
  • Heartwarming Orphan: The flashbacks to Lionel's childhood, especially the scene with the penguins.
  • In Love with the Gangster's Girl: Technically, Lionel and Frank's wife don't hook up until after his death, but later it's revealed that Julia has had relations with every one of the Minna Men.
  • Advertisement:
  • Jewish Mother: "Irving, when are you coming home?" The joke actually reveals the answer to the mystery of Frank Minna.
  • Missing Mom: Every Minna Man.
  • Neighborhood-Friendly Gangsters: Frank obviously has good relations with the community he operates out of, as he's able to go to the local orphanage to find new recruits.
  • Parental Substitute: Frank Minna to his men.
  • Postmodernism: It's a detective story about a man who's obsessed with detective stories. Each character is following a little script about how gangsters and detectives are supposed to act. When Frank Minna dies, Lionel's script begins to unravel.
  • Private Eye Monologue: Most of the book, sometimes hilariously with Lionel's eatmebailey! Fuckwit!taptaptap tourette's
  • Siblings in Crime: Frank and Gerard Minna. Also, while they aren't biologically related, all of the Minna Men.
  • Sibling Triangle: Between Frank, Julia, and Girard Minna; also between the various Minna Men and Julia, except the Minnas are emotional brothers rather than biological.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Verbal Tic: Lionel Essrog obviously, particularly with "Eatmebailey".
  • "What Now?" Ending: So Lionel's solved Frank's murder, but Kimmery leaves him, he doesn't know if he's imagined Ullman or not, the closest thing he has to a family has dispersed around him, and his entire father/son relationship with Minna has been called into question; kind of a downer, actually.
  • Yakuza: At the end, when Lionel travels to Maine to confront Julia, the Yakuza are rumored to have taken over the local fishing industry.
  • You Watch Too Much X: Tony accuses Lionel of learning everything he knows from old gangster movies and Frank Minna. Which Lionel admits is true.

Top