Gun, With Occasional Music

by Jonathan Lethem
Harcourt Brace & Company, hc, 212 pages, $19.95
ISBN: 0-151-36458-3

First novels aren't supposed to be like this. Jonathan Lethem's dark science fictional hard-boiled detective comedy blithely combines genres and metaphors, remarkably doing justice to all of them.

Conrad Metcalf is a down on his luck private detective in a future bitingly extrapolated from our mass-media dominated consumer culture. Words have been banned from the news, superseded entirely by glossy pictures and catchy music. Designer drugs have trickled down with an ironically reaganistic twist; anyone can walk into a drugstore and freely order a batch of their personal mix (combining acceptance, regret, and forgetfulness in the intensity and duration of their choice) or an off-the-shelf narcotic. Service jobs are held by evolved animals, except in particularly snobbish places.

When Metcalf agrees to help a doomed man, he finds that his own luck has disappeared as well. Suddenly, everything in his world that had not already fallen apart begins to abruptly collapse. All signs point to an unlikely conspiracy in which he's become unwittingly involved; but it's unlikely he'll survive long enough to do anything about it.

Lethem's work is forceful and funny, sad and satirical--a terrific way to start off a career.

If I'd had any idea which way Lethem's career was going to go, I probably would have written a longer review....

First appeared in Horror magazine, March 1994.

Copyright © 2004 by Leigh Grossman