Novels about rock music have been written by everyone from Harlan Ellison (a killer riff, 1961’s Spider Kiss) to Don DeLillo (the lit equivalent of a dud concept album, 1973’s Great Jones Street). The best, such as Tom Carson’s Twisted Kicks (1981) and James Robert Baker’s Fuel-Injected Dreams (1986), capture (in very different ways) the social alienation that the music so often romanticizes. So does Jonathan Lethem’s dreamily moving You Don’t Love Me Yet, the tale of a struggling L.A. rock band suddenly blessed with terrific music it may or may not have written.
As he did in novels like Gun,With Occasional Music, and As She Climbed Across the Table, Lethem mixes realism and trippiness, wit and heart. Lucinda is the bassist for a hapless quartet that can’t even decide on a name. At her day job answering calls on the ”Complaint Line,” she falls for a regular customer, a querulous loner who speaks in phrases so simple and memorable, they seep unconsciously (and fantastically) into songs composed by another band member.
The result is a melancholy comedy of raucous manners. With minor-key brilliance, Lethem describes how alluring pop is crafted in a state of joyous tedium — the same paradox that can be disastrous when it comes to sustaining real love.