Then he takes away two things that a detective holds closer than a bottle of whiskey: the gun and control of his actions. Lethem's Lionel Essrog has Tourette's Syndrome (TS), which makes him mince words, shout, twitch, and obsessively touch. His neurological imbalance makes an unhealthy job even more so.
"I'm a huge fan of the hard-boiled detective and film noir because of the way they move through the high and lows of society," Lethem says. "I made this character as absurd as possible."
Lethem read medical accounts and, he says, "the kinds of books that people with TS read so that they can learn to live with it." His goal was to make Lionel's TS "intrude unabashed in every moment. I gave him every disadvantage -- the motor tic, voice tic. I thought that I probably went 15 or 20 percent beyond what was credible, but once the book came out and I began meeting more people with TS, people said they 'knew Lionel.'"
Lethem says TS is diverse, "like a fingerprint or snowflake. It takes over the personality and is very interactive and unique." As he wrote, he obsessed over each paragraph and fussed with his wordplay -- which became an important element in Lionel's TS.
Now the Tourette's Syndrome Association has asked Lethem to make speeches and perform readings. "I'm just glad that they accept the book," he says.