Novel New York
by Jessica Allen, 04/01/2014
The Brooklyn Inn photo by Kate Glicksberg • "Motherless Brooklyn" (1999), by Jonathan Lethem courtesy Vintage Books
To find the neighborhoods of this novel about a tough-talking, tic-addled detective struggling with Tourette's—a character by the name of Lionel Essrog—you have to look past hipster Brooklyn. Indeed, you might have to become a bit of a detective yourself. Case in point: up-and-coming Gowanus just got a huge Whole Foods; in contrast, in the book, set in the 1980s, one character quips that the eponymous canal is "the only body of water in the world . . . that's 90 percent guns." To tune in to the Motherless Brooklyn mojo, you can't go wrong with an amble down Court Street, the center of Lionel's universe, where he spends his adolescence getting involved with a small-time mobster. Depending on the time of day, you might buy an overstuffed sandwich at Court Street Grocers, the spaghetti and meatballs at Brucie, or the pappardelle with braised lamb at Frankies 457 Spuntino, a restaurant that was once an Italian social club. Save room for a slice, and eat it in true NYC style: trash the paper plate, fold the pizza in half and gobble it as you hurry down the street. Don't forget to stop in at BookCourt to see if they have Lethem's latest on the shelves (they almost certainly will). When night falls, walk to the Brooklyn Inn, a dark, dusty, yet welcoming tavern that features prominently in both the book and in the Harvey Keitel vehicle Smoke.