All Her Father’s Guns : A Review

All Her Father’s Guns
by James Warner
Publisher: Numina Press
Review: Grace Read

Well, let’s start with the ending.

I didn’t like it.

It was out of sync with the rest of the novel. It was ludicrous. It undermined the authenticity of the entire story and stuck out like a surreal sore thumb. I’d go so far as to say that it angered me.

However, given a bit of breathing space (in, and out), I began to wonder if the ending was less ridiculous, and more clever, than I had first appreciated. Yes, perhaps it was a clever ending. Perhaps…but the jury is still out as far as I’m concerned.

All Her Father’s Guns is narrated to us in two distinct voices; Cal (the father; a right wing, repressed, gun loving businessman) and Reid (the boyfriend; an English, foppish academic). Cal and Reid provide a fun juxtaposition of characters – they are like stereotypes brought to life, and through the course of the novel, they seem to converge: Cal shares so much of his heartbreak that he softens in our minds, while Reid finds that the world of academia loses it’s idealism and he learns to fire a gun! An uneasy middle ground is defined, where the opposites share some commonality, and perhaps even start to empathise with each other.

All Her Father’s Guns contains a degree of mystery that gradually, subtly, builds and intensifies as the characters find out more about each others lives; their secrets, their relationships and, ultimately, their humanity. The delicate mounting of tension is due to the two sets of 1st person narration. Without an omniscient narrator to direct the plot, the characters’ personal accounts have to discover, react to and contextualise each others’ motivations. This is a brilliant technique and Werner uses it masterfully.

Warner is clearly very well read as the plot is steeped in academic theory and political behind-the-scenes action. Having so much theory woven through the plot allows All Her Father’s Guns to stand up tall as a commentary/satire on American society. Warner seems to portray American society (or perhaps just its politics?) as heartless, self centred and malicious. Or perhaps this is just Reid’s perspective, as a liberal Englishman, of America. America is this grotesque, farcical, embarrassing caricature of itself – something by which to be entertained and shocked in equal measure.

The endorsement on the cover suggests All Her Father’s Guns is funny. I think this is a stretch. It is amusing at points, but the plot is pretty catastrophic. Nothing positive happens and the characters are overwhelmingly unhappy. They are tortured by their pasts and suspicious of their current relationships. They are desperately searching for meaning in the midst of broken family life and disappointment.

Meaning is partially found in the story Reid’s father tells Reid and his brother in their childhood. This sub-narrative wraps up some of the missing pieces in the characters’ lives (the absent fathers, the lost children) as it contours throughout the main plot. I love a story within a story, and this childhood tale provides an innovative new dimension; a refreshing contrast to the backstabbing of the main plot.

There’s plenty to get your teeth stuck into in All Her Father’s Guns. And I recommend you read it, if only so that you can tell me what you make of the ending!

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