Is there such a thing as Couvade Syndrome for travelling? Madame NiceWork did the globetrotting, not me, and yet I’m the one whose internal clock needs to be set back nine hours. Had it been me and not her who endured the long flight from Berlin (A highly classified mission. Don’t ask.) I could hardly feel woozier or more whacked in the Circadians than I do at the moment. The wooz puts the kibosh on any chance of writing a coherent post for NiceWork, and yet…
…and yet, I must post something, anything, if only to push that montage of thriller authors — the collaborators on The Copper Bracelet — down a couple of screens. I can no longer bear to look at them. Especially I can longer bear the baleful stare of Jeffrey Deaver. You know, I’ve seen Mr Deaver at a book signing in Naperville, IL. He’s a jolly, happy, jokey guy, full of stories and amiable chat. But you wouldn’t know it from that evil photo: There he glares malevolently like one of the psychoperps who keep his fictional detectives employed.
So, look: Here’s a novel that had me in stitches during my foot-soaking downtime between sightseeing bouts in NYC recently. It’s the first novel by Jonatham Lethem, from fifteen fraught years ago: Gun, with Occasional Music.
Now, understand, I normally look with cold disdain on the private eye pastiche — into which catergory Gun, with Occasional Music falls in a loopy sci-fi, Neal Stephensonish sort of way — and certainly a blurb from the wretched Newsweek, if not exactly a deal-killer, is no recommendation for this reader — and if that blurb compares Lethem favorably to Philip K. Dick with whose drug-soaked deleriums I am out of sympathy, well, then you may reasonably ask why I didn’t hurriedly put the volume back on the shelf and continue to rummage through the Flatiron District Barnes and Noble?
I’ll tell you why: the epigraph. The epigraph reads thus:
There was nothing to it. The Super Chief was on time, as it almost always is, and the subject was as easy to spot as a kangaroo in a dinner jacket.
But not just the epigraph qua epigraph. I delved a bit and saw that Lethem had written a book in which Chandler’s metaphor was taken literally. There really is a kangaroo, maybe not in a dinner jacket, but cast in the part of the tough-guy wannabee gunsel, like Wilmer in The Maltese Falcon (the part played by Elisha Cook, Jr.). Other key characters are also animals, “evolved animals,” in this alternate reality novel, or dystopic future, or satire, or spoof, or jape or whatever it is. Anyhow, I was hooked, and the novel did not disappoint. Far from it. Many laughs, as when our “private inquisitor” (i.e. detective) hero answers the doorbell and…
A neatly dressed woman in her late twenties or early thirties stood in the doorway, and behind her a young guy in a suit and tie was walking up the steps. “Hello,” she said.
I said hello back.
“We’re students of psychology. If you’re not too busy, we’d like to read you a few selections from Freud’s Civilization and it Its Discontents.“
They’re “Freud nuts.” It’s that kind of book, except in addition to all the absurd invention there actually is a murder mystery to solve and the private inquisitor solves it using clues peculiar to the world Lethem has created.
I would tell you all about that world — the government supplied “forgetol” drugs, the evolved “babyheads,” the musical news reports (no words, just mood music) — but as I said, I’m too woozy and I’ve just remembered the tuna salad in the fridge so I’ll answer the only question pertinent when recommending a novel. Will you enjoy Gun, with Occasional Music? Yes, absolutely. No doubt. Guaranteed. You will thank me.
Oh, and there really is a gun that, when brandished, plays appropriately ominous background music.
Gun, with Occasional Music
by Jonathan Lethem
(Harvest Books, Paperback, 269pp.)