Gun, with Occasional Music

Gun, with Occasional Music
Gun, with Occasional Music

by Jonathan Lethem

I reread Lethem’s dark tech-noir mystery novel in preparation for my mystery reading group’s discussion of it. I was a bit worried because it wasn’t the usual fare we read for that group, but I feel like that’s my role: to recommend stuff we wouldn’t usually read (I’ve also had us read City of Glass and The Big Over Easy). The discussion went pretty well, though several of the regulars either missed the meeting or hadn’t finished the book. Those who had finished seemed to like it pretty well, and a solid discussion of the ideas and questions in the novel ensued. Over all, a delight.

  • This reading highlighted for me the overlap of the book’s narratives with those of The Long Goodbye and The Maltese Falcon. Goodbye’s sleazy doctor, the hillside house with the wealthy folks, and the crux of the mystery all made it into Gun, while characters from Falcon showed up: Wilmer the thug becomes a young kangaroo working for a fat gangster (ala Gutman). Metcalf seems more like Marlowe than Spade, but Spade gets in deeper with the cops than Metcalf does.
  • We discussed the role of drugs in the book quite a bit. Gun with Occasional Music suggests a world where everyone drugs themselves with a variety of mind-numbing “blends” that reduce their independence. We pondered whether the drugs were an allegory for modern technology and/or society, in which loneliness is the result of our addictions. I didn’t bring up Facebook as a counterexample.
  • I think the social commentary at the heart of the question about the evolved animals (sentient animals used as a servant class) was pretty interesting too. We discussed both the idea of having a servant class (implied or specific) and also the question of ethics buried in the concept.
  • Finally, we had a delightful time discussing why Lethem might have used science-fiction instead of other genres in which to work.

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