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Gun, with Occasional Music [Paperback]

Jonathan Lethem
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

6 Aug 2001

The first novel by Jonathan Lethem (author of the award-winning Motherless Brooklyn) is a science-fiction mystery, a dark and funny post-modern romp serving further evidence that Lethem is the distinctive voice of a new generation.

Conrad Metcalf has problems. He has a monkey on his back, a rabbit in his waiting room, and a trigger-happy kangaroo on his tail. (Maybe evolution therapy is not such a good idea). He's been shadowing Celeste, the wife of an Oakland urologist. Maybe falling in love with her a little at the same time. When the doctor turns up dead, Metcalf finds himself caught in a crossfire between the boys from the Inquisitor's Office and gangsters who operate out of the back room of the Fickle Muse.

Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Faber and Faber; New edition edition (6 Aug 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571209599
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571209590
  • Product Dimensions: 17.2 x 11 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,216,056 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jonathan Lethem was born in New York and attended Bennington College.

He is the author of seven novels including Fortress of Solitude and Motherless Brooklyn, which was named Novel of the Year by Esquire and won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Salon Book Award, as well as the Macallan Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger.

He has also written two short story collections, a novella and a collection of essays, edited The Vintage Book of Amnesia, guest-edited The Year's Best Music Writing 2002, and was the founding fiction editor of Fence magazine.

His writings have appeared in the New Yorker, Rolling Stone, McSweeney's and many other periodicals.

He lives in Brooklyn, New York

Product Description

Amazon Review

There are people who have a story to tell and then there are storytellers. Jonathan Lethem is a storyteller as Gun, with Occasional Music clearly shows--but he's also a craftsman and it's the latter quality that is on display in this, his first novel, though not the first in print in the UK. In previously available (but later) works, Lethem's craftsmanship has come into its own: like Don DeLillo or film maker Hal Hartley, he's a master of characters in absurd situations, as well as absurd characters in sane situations. But his debut shows a different side of Lethem and while still enjoyable, Gun is a prime example of an author getting through the difficult first novel, a storyteller still learning to use his tools.

A Chandler-esque piece of detective noir by way of Philip K Dick or Eric Garcia (Anonymous Rex, Gun is the story of private inquisitor Conrad Metcalf, a down-on-his-luck detective in a world not too different from our own. That is, if you discount the evolved animals and babies (called babyheads), a public injunction against asking questions, self-tailored drugs and the reliance on mortal karma as a criminal deterrent. There's a girl, a gun, a mysterious crimelord and some heavies on both sides of the law to deal with; the usual suspects are all present and accounted for. So too is the stylised dialogue:

She and Stanhunt had been freshly separated and the electricity between them had still been going strong--back when Stanhunt was still capable of generating electricity. Now there was a blackout. I wondered if the lady behaved any differently in the dark. I wondered if maybe she was the one who cut the wires.
It's only the knowing tone--the fact that the author realises just how silly all of this is and has some fun with it--that saves this book from being a fourth-rate Chinatown. In Motherless Brooklyn, Lethem revisits crime with better results; and does science fiction better in Girl in Landscape. --Randy Silver


"Marries Chandler's style and Philip K. Dick's audaciously assured first novel!"--"Newsweek" "Marvelous...a stylish, intelligent, darkly humorous and highly readable entertainment."--"San Francisco Examiner" "Sharp, funny, visionary."--Jill Eisenstadt, author of "Far Rockaway" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lethem in the rough 24 Jan 2007
It seems that all I ever read these days is Jonathan Lethem and bizarro authors like Carlton Mellick III. The bizarro guys are pretty good and fun to read in a freaky surreal-ish kind of way, but they aren't master craftsmen of the written word. Lethem is. Gun, with Occasional Music is his first book, but probably the 7th I have read. After getting used to the style of his recent work I can really tell how strong his writing has become. He is an excellent author. Even with his first book, you can tell he is an excellent author. But he has definitely improved over time.

PROS: 1) If you like classic crime noir and weird science-fiction, you'll love this book. It is a mixture of those two. Basically, it is just your usual old time crime novel set in a future of mutants and intelligent anthropomorphic animals 2) The mystery unfolds quite nicely. Not only the mystery of the plot, but also the mystery surrounding this odd world Lethem has created. 3) Once you get into it you won't be able to put it down.

CONS: 1) While the writing is good, it is still pretty mediocre in comparison to any of his other works. 2) It was originally published by a sci-fi genre publisher, so it feels like run-of-the-mill genre fiction. So if you are a fan of the literary elements of Lethem's work more than the sci-fi elements you might be disappointed. 3) Though it was intentional, the characters are pretty cliche to that of classic detective stories. This might be a good thing or bad thing. Since I am not a fan of detective fiction, it was more of a con for me.

Overall, I give this book 4 stars. It is definitely worth reading. It's just not as good as most of Lethem's other work. I might have enjoyed it a bit better than As She Climbed Across The Table, but it wasn't as unique and smart as that book. Casual readers might like this one best, so start with here if you don't read a lot of literary fiction. Otherwise, start with Girl in Landscape or Motherless Brooklyn.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Genre-Bender! 19 Nov 2001
Excellent melange of hardboiled Raymond Chandleresque crime story with wild Philip K. Dick/William gibson futurist vision. The mystery follows an archetypical hardboiled Oakland PI as he doggedly pursues the truth in a seedy, labyrinthine case. In this dystopic vision of the future, only the police and PI's are allowed to ask questions and everyone carries a "karma" card which the police can add or deduct from as they see fit. Zero karma and you get sentenced-to years in cold storage. Genetic engineering has led to talking animals (who are definitely not first-class citizens) and bizarre gangsterish babies who have their own clubs! An awesome blend of genres which results in something all its own. If you like this, try William Gibson's Virtual Light too.
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By Eileen Shaw TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This was Lethem's debut book and one has to admire his ambition at the very least. It's set in a future American city. The scientific gene advances have enabled animals to become almost human, with voices and human intelligences. But they are, if you like, the equivalent of the new black race, suspected and looked down upon. There is a new prison system too, you don't now go to jail to be a further drain upon society, you are cryogenically frozen for the term of your sentence. You are stripped of the karmic points on your life-card. On release you receive a fair number to allow you to start building up the karma again. Sounds almost humane doesn't it?

Conrad Metcalfe is a private inquisitor (the police are all inquisitors now) - one of the very few remaining private eyes. The dialogue is fast though only infrequently lives up to the Raymond Chandler model. When a man called Orton Angwine asks for help - a man with zero karma, Conrad knows there is little he can do. "When the Inquisitor's Office set your card at zero, it meant you couldn't get caught slamming the door to a public rest room without sinking into a negative karmic level." And Orton Angwine has been accused of murder.

I found it fun at one level, with the inventive use of notions such as children treated at birth to gain an adult's learning abilities in their first three years(Babyheads). But this is one of the ideas that are only peripherally delivered. Solving the case of Orton Angwine takes precedence. The trouble is it takes forever. Conrad drives here, he drives there, he has inconclusive conversations with half a dozen people and it just goes nowhere. I liked the ideas but the energy ran out of the action around halfway through, even given Dulcie the sheep. I much prefer Lethem's later work, especially the wonderful Motherless Brooklyn.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
This is probably my all time favorite book. This novel is pretty much what would happen if brave new world and any Raymond Chandler book got mixed up. Of course, that being said, you don't get stuck with Huxley's heavy handed moralizing about the future. And the main character, Conrad Metcalf, has a moral base that's a bit lower than Chandler's Philip Marlowe. But so far I haven't really mentioned anything you couldn't pick up off the back cover if you were in an offline bookstore. Gun with occasional music is a noir mystery set in an unrecognizable future- I can't even begin to plot a course between now and then. It's quite bizzare. Talking Animals, children replaced by accelerated growth babies (Trust me; I'm not up to explaining that one), flying antigrav pens, the musical news (no words on the radio), the pictorial news (no words in the newspaper), and a cute police officer named Catherine Teleprompter. I don't want to give too much away though. Another element I should add is that the likelihood that the title for Radiohead song Karma Police probably owes the phrase to this book-- people have a credit card of sorts with their karma point on them, which are modified up and down by the local law enforcement agents. There's a murder. It takes place in San Fransisco. There's a gorgous beraved wife. A kangaroo gangster a little fresh behind the ears. Oh, and you have to have a license to ask questions. It's fun, it's entertaining, it's deep, but not in a way to ruin the rest of your week. Check it out. Apparently none of my paragraph breaks went through.
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