As a meditation on American gun violence, Bloodbath Nation seems an odd book for Auster to have produced; he is known as a novelist, after all ... Auster, however, is not interested in the standard us-and-them narrative of guns in the United States: the Second Amendment absolutists or those who oppose them, the tired arguments about right and wrong, left and right. Rather, he means to take a more historical (which is to say: narrative) perspective ... Ostrander contributes forty-one images, each in its way as riveting as Auster’s text ... The power of Auster’s book is that it never blinks in articulating this dilemma, that it doesn’t let anybody off the hook. Gun violence in the United States is a collective problem, after all—which also means, as Bloodbath Nation argues so compellingly, that it is a collective responsibility.
Having unpacked both his own ambivalent, alienated and somewhat antipathetic personal connection to the weapon itself he then sets out to understand where the nation is coming from and why ... While there is something to Auster’s argument, there is not enough in it to carry the day and not enough elsewhere in the book to sustain it ... There are no easy answers. But I did expect that having demanded an honest, difficult national conversation he would, at least, go on to tell us what he thinks the nation should be talking about ... He doesn’t ... His failure to signal a destination, let alone arrive at one, leaves the reader lost and feeling as hopeless as when they started.
Bloodbath Nation is an attempt to short-circuit [Auster's] own tricksiness and lack of affect. It is genuinely compelling, but remains problematic. It is clearly a book born out of conviction and passion, but the older Auster is always there ... The book is both a histology and a historiography of gun culture in the United States, taking in the Black Panthers alongside colonialism, the Second Amendment aside attempts to redefine a militia, Westerns and G-men ... By far the best part of this book is the fourth section.
An attempt by one of America’s most feted modernist novelists to explain why his country is the most violent in the western world ... An impassioned yet clear-eyed analysis of arguably the most embittered debate – just one of several – threatening to tear the USA apart ... His text is illustrated with sombre black and white photographs by Spencer Ostrander, of the sites of recent mass shootings. Their power lies in their deliberate, understated ordinariness ... Forthright though it is, Bloodbath Nation is not a polemic; what would be the point? Although its tone is grim and sorrowful, it is humane in its depiction of a society utterly riven on this issue ... For those desperate for good news, Auster sees glimmers of hope around the margins of gun-control, on which both sides might agree.
Bloodbath Nation is mostly a forceful and vivid work of long-form polemic, but it is bound together by a vital thread of memoir, a family secret, and a coincidence to match any of those that the author built into his novels.
The problem with Paul Auster’s Bloodbath Nation...is not lack of authorial standing. Rather, like so much sorrowing over gun violence in America, it returns us right back to where we started: head sunk in hands in despair ... He’s on firmer footing when admitting that he has almost no experience with guns and, like most American liberals, has no idea why anyone would want to own one ... Auster doesn’t contribute much insight into the psychological drivers of these mêlées ... I’d criticise Bloodbath Nation for ignoring the overwhelming source of American gun murders — urban black-on-black violence, usually related to gangs and drugs — save for the fact that topically the text is already inclined to overreach ... I sympathise with the urge to comment on an entrenched, hitherto insoluble source of gratuitous heartache, but it is befuddling why this mere essay was published as a standalone hardback. Likewise perplexing is the inclusion of 31 photographs by Spencer Ostrander, mostly of blank, inexpressive public buildings where mass shootings took place. I’m sorry, but these bland, low-contrast, black-and-white landscapes have no emotional impact or artistic value. They serve largely to inflate the page count.
His writing throughout this work is as clean and professional as readers should expect. Yet the accompanying photos of mass-shooting sites — although they required Ostrander to travel to 50-plus locations — are unexceptional.
Deft and dogged and entirely too contemplative to be a screed, even at its febrile peak ... Will the message of Bloodbath Nation reverberate outside the echo chamber of Auster's fellow gun-control advocates? His generally measured tone makes it seem possible.
Brief but remarkably moving ... Though Auster’s arguments will be familiar to anyone who has followed gun control debates closely, the author’s overview is exceptional in its clarity and arresting in its sense of urgency ... A harrowing, haunting reflection on the routine slaughter wrought by guns.