Monday, June 23, 2008

Review of Gun, with Occasional Music

I don't typically review my book club's picks here, because I get enough discussion and dissection when we meet about those books. But this was an interesting one, so I thought I'd post it.

This book (the author's book club winds up reading a lot of first novels, for some reason) is set in the near-future Bay Area. It was written in the 90's, so near-future meant 2008! It was funny to read that. In Lethem's vision, no one is allowed to ask questions (unless you have a special license to do so), and the news on the radio is composed solely of music. Newspapers only have photos, no type. Drugs are not only legal, they're free and encouraged by the government; folks can make their own cocktail of drugs (called "Make") out of ingredients like "avoidal," "acceptol," and "forgettol." The protagonist is a private investigator (so he's allowed to ask questions, although it makes people incredibly uncomfortable), and he is hired to investigate the murder of a rich doctor.

The dialog and storytelling is pure over-the-top hard-boiled noir, but somehow it completely works for this book. The protagonist tangles with the wife of the dead doctor, the dead doctor's partner, a drug dealer/crime lord, and government agents, none of whom want him sniffing around the case. Mixed up in all of this are genetically engineered animals, who can walk and talk, and what Lethem calls "Babyheads"--children who are genetically engineered to grow up faster, because the regular process was taking too long for folks' tastes.

It was a bizarre and entertaining read. I would definitely recommend it (I actually did recommend it, to Mr. T, and he liked it too), and I would read other Lethem novels, too.

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