Friday, June 15, 2018

Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday , June 15, 2018

GUN WITH OCCASIONAL MUSIC, Jonathan Lethem from Deborah (Debby) Atkinson,

Years ago, I was browsing a San Francisco bookstore when someone recommended a book that looked pretty quirky to my unfamiliar eye. It was Gun, with Occasional Music, published in 1994, and I'd never heard of Jonathan Lethem. After I read Gun, I started paying attention.
I write crime fiction, so about 75% of what I read is in that genre, and I use that term inclusively: mystery, thriller, suspense, and so on. Every now and then, I read sci-fi, which if it's good, is beyond good—it's fantastic. These finds seem rarer than the fantastic mystery/suspense novel, though maybe I'm just inexperienced, and someone here can point me in the right direction.
With Gun, with Occasional Music, Lethem did it all. He captured Raymond Chandler's noir setting and injected the futuristic pessimism of Philip K. Dick, with a dash here and there of Frank Herbert's Dune (mind altering, government-issued drugs), and compelling animal protagonists à la Eric Garcia. Gun has sheep, apes, rabbits, and other species, all "evolved" to speak English and make protagonist Conrad Metcalf's life more difficult. Wait until you meet Joey Castle, the enforcer kangaroo.
Best of all, though, are characters that are original, appealing, and sympathetic. The dialogue crackles, the scenes are intense, and you'll love Metcalf despite his foibles.
I also loved Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn (1999), but this one made more of a splash in the mystery community, so I probably don't have to sing its praises quite as loudly. Lionel Essrog, the protagonist of Motherless, has Tourette's syndrome. Yet Essrog's outbursts ring with not only profanity, but brilliance, heart, and desperation. The dialogue and characters are outstanding. The writing is inspirational, poetic at times. And the mystery ain't bad, either.
I hope you enjoy Lethem's work as much as I do. 

Mark Baker, MURDER ON MULBERRY BEND, Victoria Thompson
Les Blatt, DEATH ON THE AISLE, Richard and Frances Lockridge
Brian Busby, ARCTIC RENDEVOUS,Keith Edgar
CrossExaminingCrime, VANISH IN AN INSTANT, Margaret Millar
Martin Edwards, THE CRACK IN THE TEACUP, Michael Gilbert
Richard Horton, INVITATION TO LIVE, Lloyd C.Douglas
Jerry House, PHANTOM, Thomas Tessier
George Kelley,  THE BEST SCIENCE FICTION STORIES: 1953 Edited by Everett F. Bleiler & T. E. Dikty
Margot Kinberg, THE LOST, Claire McGowan
Steve Lewis/Walker Martin, The Non-Maigret Novels of Georges Simenon 
Todd Mason, ADVENTURES IN THE SPACE TRADE: A Memoir by Richard Wilson  FANTASTIC WORLDS Nos. 3, 4 & 5, edited by Sam Sackett; COLD SNAP by Thom Jones: Limited Promotional Sampler The Very Small Press, and a Brief Form of a Little, Brown Book
Juri Nummelin, BARBARY SLAVE, Kevin Matthews

Richard Robinson, What I Read, Part 8
Matt Paust, THE OVERSTORY, Richard Powers
James Reasoner, THE WIDOW, Orrie Hitt
TomCat, THE CASE OF THE TUDOR QUEEN, Christopher Bush
TracyK, CUTTER AND BONE, Newton Thornburg
Zybahn,KEEPING HOUSE, Michael Blumlein


Todd Mason said...

Thanks, Patti.

As I'm prone to note, Lethem (whose work I've continued to admire and enjoy) is my exact contemporary, and even more tellingly was in the same class at Bennington as Donna Tartt and Bret Easton Ellis, but dropped out. I doubt this directly resulted in his being a much better writer than either of the others (vastly better than Ellis), but it probably did affect how long it took for him to gain widespread attention...he was already getting serious attention in that literary community for his earliest published work in SF.

Among those who have done some notable work in fantasticated crime fiction...well, how far back do we go? John Dickson Carr at latest? Poe? Kate Wilhelm (DEATH QUALIFIED is a great place to start with her thus). Ron Goulart, Kim Newman, Sharyn McCrumb, not a few suggest THE CAVES OF STEEL is Isaac Asimov's best novel. Macia Muller and Bill Pronzini. James Lee Burke...has Joe Lansdale written a novel that isn't also a western that mixes things just so?

J F Norris said...

GUN, WITH OCCASIONAL MUSIC is a fabulous book. I read it when it first came because the illustration on the cover alone grabbed my attention. The plot blurb was even more fascinating and the book lived up to all its promise and more. I happened to be in the library when I first saw it. When I checked it out from the CPL I'll never forget that the clerk looked at me and the book cover and then said the title aloud and shook his head while processing it for me. I got a dirty look too as icing on the judgmental cake. You'd think people who work in a library would be less contemptuous of the public's reading taste AND would be the most likely to live by the adage "Never judge a book by its cover" taken to its most stringently literal extremes.'s Chicago. Passing judgment and dishing out disdain on strangers is practically a birthright here.

Was watching movies last night and I'm too busy at work today. I'll have my contribution for this week posted in the early evening.

Rick Robinson said...

I loved the cover, but never got around to reading the book. Now I think I need to find a copy and do that.

Todd Mason said...

Marcia Muller, of course.

Todd Mason said...

Wonder what the hell your library circulation aide was choosing to think, John..."He must be one of those musical kangaroo gun nuts, by cracky..."

Casual Debris said...

So very behind... but please add my latest:
Michael Blumlein, Keeping House.

Many thanks.

Yvette said...

I screwed up, Patti. I thought today was Thursday. Sorry. I'll be back in form by next Friday. Jeez.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I really don't like any comments on my book selection at the library. I want to be an anonymous reader. And I thought it was Saturday, Yvette.
I have read nothing by Lethem. Have to remedy that.

jurinummelin said...

Just putting up my contribution.

jurinummelin said...

Here it is:

Rick Robinson said...

Our library system has auto-checkout, so once I scan my card, the book goes on the scanner plate, it beeps, that's it. I'm checked out. No employee sees what I'm reading unless they just snoop into patron accounts. If they do, I'm not there to know it.

Mathew Paust said...

Our librarians undergo intense training to maintain iron disciplined deadpan (face and manner) when confronted with patrons checking out James Patterson "novels".

TracyK said...

I am glad you featured a review of Gun with Occasional Music, Patti. My son has a copy and I have been planning to read it but keep forgetting.

Ron said...

Have fun!

Ron said...

best what I read ever!

Todd Mason said...

James has a bad link...