Tic-Tac-Tic , start the machine ?

Rough Draft

The first element that grabs the reader’s attention is Lionel’s Tourette Syndrome. Essrog Lionel, is a complex character that continuously surprises us throughout the novel. His individuality and his uniqueness makes him even more likeable and his special way of ticking highlights even more his asymmetrical personality and ticklishness Tourette Syndrome. His tics are like a bag of tricks,  fluky and  extremely hard to predict what will come out of his surprise bag, of his  so-called  motor mouth. The process is really easy to initiate the machinery to engage the gear of temperament or should I say to wake up brutally Mister weirdness with all his graciousness. The detective’s tics are a mix of vocal outbursts and recurring gestures and manners that can resurface when he is facing, unsettled, and climbs rocky mountain of emotions. For instance, when the detective is remembering his childhood, he describes how his physical tics take form when says, “ So though I collected words, treasured them down , filling off their edges , stacking them into teetering piles , before release I translated them into physical performance , manic choreography “ (47 ) .

Even with all the efforts that he puts in it, it seems that the protagonist is whacked by the wind of peculiarity, non acceptance, rejection with a breeze of endemic tics in order to attain the highest point of  confidence and self-importance. In addition, Lionel’s behavior creates the impression of being controlled with strings which monitor his smallest deeds and gestures such as a fantoccini. Hence, his tics convey the impression of not only being  a part him, but surprisingly they occupy a special place in his life, they are like a second character , a second skin , another human being within himself .

The hard-boiled detective’s behavior evolve and develop throughout the story. At the beginning , we can see and assist to “ Mister Tourette “, sobriquet birth and follow closely the evolution of his uncontrolled actions through the childhood  of  “touching“, the adolescence of “flicking “ and  lastly, the adulthood  of  “ psychological paralysis“. His naivety and innocence, paint perfectly the portrait of a childish character which makes him a vulnerable and easy target. For instance , the first manifestation of his tics is when his friend Gilbert challenges him to go touch the penguins inside the open enclosure, we see his lack of confidence and vulnerability. Hence,  this triggering factor has started the mechanism of touching, kissing, tapping and his echolalia : “I was know a kid  who’d do anything do crazy things… I was crazy but also malleable, easily intimidated (…) “(42) .

Here, Lionel seems to have a screw loose. He does not define himself as a “normal human being “ instead he characterizes himself as a crazy man, almost representing himself as a human drowning in the sea of insanity. The fact that he acknowledges his craziness, belittle him in front of others, he’s in reality living in the shadows of illusions. Therefore, his Tourette first apparition was in reality just lie dormant inside this pitiful outside looking human being.

Also, another part of Lionel that is hidden is his sense of humor, that some people might find it redundant, farcical and even ridiculous, ambiguous, asynchronous, knot -hilarious. It seems that Lionel forgot to leave his childhood coat to give away to the adulthood coat; maturity and a boost of self – respect. When Frank Minna was alive, for the first time Lionel tried to step out of his comfort zone, when he tried to explore an unknown territory, the region of self-affirmation we can see that he is still unsure about himself: “You ever listen to yourself, Lionel ?“Minna would say later,shaking his head.“You really are shot out if a fucking cannon .“

“Scott Out f the Canyon !I don’t know why, I just-fuckitup!-I just can’t stop“

“You’re a freakshow,that’s why.Human freakshow, and its free.Free to the public.“

“Freefreak!“I hit him on the shoulder.

“That’s what I said : a free human freak show“ (57-58)

For example, one major key scene that expose his lack of judgement and highlights even more his childlike behaviour is when he has an altercation with the hospital guard. Lionel is so frustrated that he starts to yell jokes that he forgot to tell Minna. It is interesting enough, since he seems to be more preoccupied by the fact that he forgot to tell his screamingly funny joke than the health condition of his role model, Frank Minna. In this passage, the narrator emphasizes even more the boyishness of his humor when he says,“ Piece ! Of String! I said recalling another joke I hadn’t told Minna, also set in a bar. My heart sank. I wanted to barge in and begin reciting the doctors, to his white intubed face. “String! Walks! In! (…) WEDON’TDESERVESTRING! “(32 )

Lionel is so focused on his “ task “ to tell jokes that it seems that he can’t control this urge, he is comparable to an impatient child who is incapable to settle down due to his almost palpable excitement. How can such a human being continue to behave childishly? In fact, his involuntary impulses seem to make him act a certain way or makes him say words he silently thinks but loudly say. It gives the strange impression that his tics are like mini personified emotions, set in his mind, that try to lead and direct his life.

Another compelling aspect of the self-proclaimed official detective is during the puberty of confidence. The sudden burst of confidence and ruler like attitude are the major signs of his development, growth of assurance and metamorphosis. When he was younger, the protagonist was not able to affirm himself or simply to stand for his opinion since he was always smashed under the feet of insecurities and a bad self-esteem. Also, we can notice his character transforming and becoming more and more like a hard-boiled detective. The small looking “ insect“ that was once mistaken as inoffensive and “crazy“ is now metamorphosing into an imposing  butterfly. For instance, when Danny gives orders to the Minna Men, including Lionel, for the first time, HE, Lionel  decides to stand out for his opinion and openly confront his co-workers who were used to make fun of him. Which shows perfectly the beginning of an affirming Essrog who refused to be manipulated again when he says,“What about me ?” I said . “You want me – Criminal Fishrug! – to go with you ?I know the place” ( 97). Here , we can feel that Lionel is slowly gaining more confidence which allows him to express himself much easily than before and is capable of facing his “bully“.

Furthermore, Lionel is showing once more one of his facets that was once buried under all the tough layers of insecurities. As the investigation is progressing, this peculiar character is gradually following the steps of Frank Minna . Since Minna was his role model , we can start to see the protagonist developing similar characteristics to Frank. Indeed, after the death of Frank Minna , it seems that Lionel is more direct, less self-centered and is becoming a cynical character. As a matter of fact, being the target of many insults and teasing should have taught him the lesson of humbleness and respect. However, when he feels that he is in a higher position than someone he bizarrely starts to judge and criticizes them. When Lionel is in company with Loomis, he shows his exasperation and does everything “I’d be rid of him soon“…“This was another thing I hated about Loomis .Years ago he’d latched on to Minna’s joke-telling contests, decided he could compete. But he favored idiot riddles, not jokes at all, no room for character or nuance. He didn’t seem to know the difference.“(122-123).This passage points out Lionel’s lack of judgement, since he seems to forget that he was seen as a “ freak“ telling stupid jokes too.Moreover, the fact that he gives Loomis a degrading nickname such as “The garbage cop“(123) is funny enough because Lionel is named “freakshow“.In addition, Lionel’s daring character is resurfacing when he refuses to give a ride to Loomis when he says, “I thought you were driving me home.”Loomis lived on Nevis Street,near the projects.“You can walk from here,gofuckacop”(…) I parked in the open spot in across from storefront.The sooner Loomis and I were out of each other’s presence , the better “ (124).

Besides his changing character, the protagonist has reached the peak of adulthood ; which allowed him to unfold his personality and shovel the soil of his true nature.Before, Lionel was incapable to use his Tourette syndrome as tool to fool someone.For example, when he was facing the detective cop he decided to divert the situation by letting him think that the possible criminal is Tourette when he says,

“No good , I was juggling too much , and when I reticced, it came out a below : “Tourette Is the Shitman!” (…) “ No, no there’s no Tourette,”I said catching my breath .I felt bad for food , desperate to shake the detective , and choked with imminent tics.(…) He thought he was grooming a stool pigeon. I could only try to not to laugh or shout. Let Tourette be the suspect and maybe I’d get off the hook .” (110).It is clear from this passage that Lionel is showing once again his sense of humor and is using a sarcastic tone when talking to the detective.

After elucidating the mystery of Frank’s death, throwing five specific objects were the spark of his personal liberation. In fact, when he decided to throw Frank Minna’s and Julia’s gun,the doormen’s cell phone,Minna’s beeper and his right shoe are objects that served as a form of ritual in order to free himself from any association to the crime and to mark an end to the investigation ;“ Barnabaileyscrewjuliaminna.“it was my(Lionel’s) final word on the subject.“(303).Here, it shows clearly that Lionel is finally relieved and features his new life surrounded by his old friends, considering himself as a REAL detective with a heavy baggage of  the past and self-discoveries. Dont forget, people’s opinion about you does not define yourself , it can be misleading, don’t be fooled as Julia says,“ you(Lionel) were so crazy everyone thought you were stupid.“(300).

Work cited :

Lethem,  Jonathan. Motherless Brooklyn. Vintage Books, 1999.

Leila Bencherif

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