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Gun, with occasional music [Paperback]

4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
One of my favoirte books of all time. I love Lethem's gooey mix of scifi and gumshoe fiction. Part satire, part surrealism, with a rapt attention to language, a highly personal style and an utterly unbridled imagination. A dream of a book and a total page-turner. If you can imagine a sultry blonde dame killing her sleeping husband by smothering him with a Magritte painting of dogs playing poker, you'll love it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Noir, With Frequent Weirdness July 28 2003
"Gun, With Occasional Music" is my first Jonathan Lethem book, and it certainly won't be my last. Although reading just one of his books hardly ranks me as an expert on his career, I will say that this story about a private detective in a future, dystopian nightmare will probably be one of the most unusual experiences you'll ever have with a book (unless you make a habit of reading quirky, ultra bizarre fiction). Lethem must have been the product of a union between Raymond Chandler and William Burroughs, with genetic material donated by Dashiell Hammett and Aldous Huxley. That's the only way to describe this amazing blend of noir, science fiction, and political commentary. "Gun, With Occasional Music" is the type of book you introduce your friends to in order to see their reaction after they finish it.
Lethem's future is one in which I would not want to visit, let alone live in. For private investigator Conrad Metcalf, this nightmare is the only world he knows. What's so bad about this author's horrific visions? In the world of tomorrow, society is quite different from the world we know. For one thing, animals (rabbits, sheep, kangaroos, and cats) now walk upright, speak, commit crimes, and work. It's all a part of what authorities call "evolving," and it isn't just about the animals. Human infants take part in the hijinks as well, since society decided that it takes too long for people to grow up. The result is "babyheads," infants that speak, smoke, and drink thanks to massive infusions of growth hormones. As if that's not enough to cause you screaming fits, and apparently many of the people in this brave new world feel like screaming about it, the authorities provide "make," a drug used to modify behavior.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Hard-boiled weirdness Jan. 22 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Lethem pulls off what should be the impossible: hard-boiled detective fiction in a future world of animals walking and talking, babies mutated into 'babyheads', state-sponsored drug addiction and a powerful fascist police force. It works! A good read, entertaining and wildly inventive.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Intersting premise Sept. 29 2013
By Bootsy Bass TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The novelty of the premise and the excellent writing got me hooked (lol) right from the start. I have never read this author before but would definitely again. Very enjoyable to me.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully Weird June 16 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
My favourite of Lethem! This book is so out there, but in the best possible way. Lethem's imagination is fantastic, and I love the way he writes. I read this for the first time many years ago, I've had to purchase it again at least 3 times as I'd lend it out and never get it back. I'll still push Lethem on anyone who will listen, but my books will stay in my home from now on!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing, With Occasional Lapses Oct. 21 2003
Hats off to Jonathon Lethem for fashioning some hardboiled prose that nearly defies any genre with this tale of Conrad Metcalf, Private Inquisitor, not exactly hot on the trail of Celeste, the spouse of an affluent urologist ... but nothing -- and I mean absolutely nothing -- is quite what it seems.
Lethem clearly is channeling Chandler here, and, for that, he deserves much praise, as does much of the novel. Despite whether or not the reader can believe in a world where genetically-enhanced talking kangaroos can tote .45s for nefarious purposes, the power of tale is so overwhelmingly intoxicating that the reader has no choice to accept the peoples, places, and things as entirely plausible. In short, it fits in its own bizarre way, and Metcalf -- as the protagonist -- does his best, despite his own addictions, to keep himself and the plot moving at a pace where the reader has to keep up.
I did find a few sections of the book to be weighted down a bit by some obtuse humor, but, all-in-all, GUN, WITH OCCASIONAL MUSIC (hang on until the end to understand what the title means) was nonetheless fascinating.
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4.0 out of 5 stars accept-all. regret-all. July 22 2003
"Gun, with Occasional Music" is confusing at times; I never did figure out the "babyhead" thing. For the sin of obtuseness, "Gun" is docked one star. But, there's an awful lot to like, too. The narrative voice drips noir's style and deftly negotiates Lethem's strange world. The plot has all the usual twists and turns one might expect of the detective novel. The characters are all interesting in one way or another. Metcalf, a PI, is a drug addict (Acceptol, with just a touch of Regrettol for that bittersweet edge); the requisite gunsel is a talking kangaroo. "Gun, with Occasional Music" somehow manages to use all the tools of the detective novel (cynicism, murder, twisty plot) and a certain kind of non-space-setting science fiction (dystopian future, bizarre uses of technology). The marriage is stronger, and stranger than any book has a right to be.
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Starting from the beginning, Gun, with Occasional Music is ostensibly a detective story in the traditional of Raymond Chandler. That short description is not quite apt, though--it's like saying Beck or Oasis is pop music in the tradition of the Beatles. There are some striking similarities in structure or theme, but the frills are quite different. Lethem's Los Angeles is filled with the products of evolution therapy-- animals that walk on two legs and mostly fill the menial roles (akin to Cordwainer Smith's Instrumentality of Mankind) and babyheads, children that have been treated to have adult mental abilities while their bodies still are those of their age. Drugs are legal, available from corner "makers", who can mix your preferred blend like today's tobacconist, from substances called Avoidol, Relaxol, Acceptol, Believol, and, especially, Addictol. People carry around "karma" cards, that contain a collection of points, earned by doing good deeds, and subtracted from when caught in a crime including being rude. Instead of CNN, there's the music news, where one tries to understand if something bad has occurred based on the amount of bassoons or bass in the orchestra. Newspapers are collections of uncaptioned pictures. And people, unless police or licensed private investigators, find it the ultimate in rudeness to ask or be asked a question. Conrad Metcalf may sound like Sam Spade, but the world in which he tries to exist is not conducive to his anti-establishment position.
The murder that Conrad attempts to solve is fairly straightforward, although Lethem does throw in a few really nice twists that fit with his world and the characters.
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