Saturday, January 18, 2020

gun, with occasional music

Gun, With Occasional MusicGun, With Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For the truly sick individuals that pay attention to my meanderings on Goodreads, you'll note that I frequently take notes as I'm reading. Except when I don't. And I didn't, much, while reading this. Why? Because 1) I was too engrossed in the story, 2) things happened so fast that I didn't have time to process them, and 3) I have no good way of actually conveying what I thought as I read.

So, "why", you ask "are you even writing this review, Forrest?" - because: Duty. You see, back in 2017, I vowed to become more intentional in my reading, to really only list on my "to-be-read" list books that I intended to buy and actually read. Because I am a slow reader, that meant cutting that list dramatically, which I have done. But part of being intentional in reading, for me, is reviewing each book, as difficult as it might be, and as craptacular as the review might be. And so, here we are.

I have to thank two of my favorite Goodreaders, Glenn Russell and Dan Schwent, for pointing me towards this genre-blurring novel. I am a big fan of genre-blurring, and I love it when it's done right, and really, really hate it when it's not. Here, Lethem has a winner. When I first read the blurb on the book "Marries Chandler's style and Philip K. Dick's vision," I was intrigued, but wary. I've heard that kind of praise before, and . . .

In this case, the claim is accurate. Take one part Dashiell Hammett, one part Raymond Chandler, one part Philip K. Dick (minus the mysticism), play some Big Bad Voodoo Daddy in the background, do a line of coke, and you are in the zone. The characters are fantastic, especially the narrator, who is as snarky as they get. The setting is caught somewhere between the 1940s and the "future" - honestly, I had something between the movie version of "The Big Sleep" and "Blade Runner" in my head, though the futuristic accouterments were not nearly as pervasive as in Ridley Scott's film. The thing that sets gun, with occasional music apart (besides it's intriguing title, which, you will note, is uncapitalized, at least on the cover) is the way that it interweaves seemingly disparate elements in such a way that they feel perfectly natural. An "uplifted" (not Lethem's term -I'm stealing it from the scifi hive mind) kangaroo as thug, babies who have been genetically accelerated into adulthood (except their heads, hence the term "Babyheads"), and the titular gun, with occasional music, all seem to be of a piece (okay, pun intended - i couldn't help myself, so shoot me). Nothing seems shoehorned in, which is often a shortcoming in such genre-blurring novels. No, this book is as smooth as butter.

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